Justin du Coeur (jducoeur) wrote,
Justin du Coeur

Work 1: Tabula Rasa III

Okay, in preparation for upcoming New Year's resolutions, let's start describing the big projects. We'll start with the most achievable of the lot.

Tabula Rasa was a LARP written by myself, alexx_kay and hungrytiger a fair number of years ago. As it happens, it's one of two LARPs based on the "all-amnesia" concept, where none of the characters know who they are at the start of the game. However, TR is rather different from The Morning After, the other game. Tabula Rasa is somewhat less about the amnesia itself, and more about coping with a complex situation based on poor information. We don't even promise that it is possible for the characters to get their memories back; they just have to cope. (The subtitle of the game was, "The world doesn't stop when you don't know your name", which pretty well sums it up.) I am still firmly convinced that the Buffy episode of the same name (and concept) was written by someone who heard about our game and decided to adapt the idea.

The first game was a fairly straight political thriller (plus the amnesia). The three GMs split the three alien worlds involved between us: alexx_kay did the religious world of Garden; hungrytiger did the cyberpunkish planet Pit; and I wrote the warrior world Verdant. All three worlds were meeting for a crucial peace conference, at Delta Station, a small pimple of a dome on the side of a gigantic ancient space station known as Cathedral. It proved to be a hoot: a good game without too many major flubs, and the players seemed to have fun.

We really had only intended to write one game, but having spent a couple of years on it, we had far more ideas than could actually be fit into it. So it wasn't too long before we began to talk about the idea of a "sequel". TR II, as it turned out, was a sort of dark mirror of the original game. We never liked the vow of secrecy that The Morning After asks of its players -- we like war stories, and wanted to encourage folks to talk about the original game. So we conceived of a sequel in the form of a ground-up rewrite.

So TR II took most of the ideas from the original game, and turned them on their heads. Good guys became bad guys; saints became psychotics. Minor figures in the political scene in the original became power players in the second. Delta Station was now on the surface of a dead planet, and the entire action of the game took place underground. The idea, which I think we succeeded in, was that the better you knew the original game, the more trouble you would be in, because assumptions from the first game would tend to lead you badly astray in the second. (We even cast one player as the same character both times, and it did him no good whatsoever.)

For the sequel, alexx_kay chose to bow out of the writing side, so I took over Garden, turning his matriarchical society into a deeply medieval one. This version of the story was much darker than the original in general -- out of the entire game, there was only one character who I considered a pure "good guy", and several characters were downright evil or insane. We correctly expected a bloodbath, and decided to explicitly ask the players not to kill anyone for the first 16 (out of 24) hours of game time, so that folks wouldn't get cut out too early. Still, by the end of the game we had bodies stacked up like cordwood, and a major war of conquest in progress by the end of the story.

Dark or not, the game went quite well, and pretty much got the story out of our system. We put it aside, and didn't think about it for a couple of years.

We really hadn't intended to write another one. But around -- geez, almost four years ago now -- hungrytiger and I were driving down to the first run of Golden Aeon, and we got talking. We found that there really is another story to tell here. By the time we got down to the game, we had the broad strokes defined, and they haven't actually changed all that much since then.

The game is Tabula Rasa III: Alpha and Omega. Thematically, it's the conclusion of the trilogy, although the way in which this is a "trilogy" is only visible in the GM materials, and barely even there. Once again, it's essentially a rewrite, although a more dramatic one this time. Some of the major elements will be retained, but many will be changed. (Among other things, I've vowed to stop using stupid Legion of Superheroes names for my characters, so there's going to be a lot less character continuity this time.)

It's not a trivial game to create. In some respects, it's going to be more work to write than the previous versions. And I have some very specific production effects that I hope to see -- we never managed to get the computer system working for the original game (we were thinking of doing a custom FPS environment for exploring the giant space station), but there are things I'm hoping to make happen in this one. Those will be serious extra work, in some cases extra work I don't yet know how to do.

But it has to happen, simply because I'm never going to get this damned game out of my head otherwise. One way or another, this one really should provide a proper final chapter to the story. And it has more thematic clarity than any other game I've dealt with before. The first was simply a political thriller; the second was simply dark. This game is about choices, and I dearly hope that we can make those choices difficult. I'm sure it won't be perfect, but with luck, we can make it good.

We've got the main plots, most of the backstory, and a lot of the characters designed. Now it's just a matter of the hard work of actually writing the damned thing, and then running it...

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