The Zone Is An Influence
Mutations of narrative.
This week we have a quick catch up on TEETH progress, a look at THE ZONE, as well as the usual links and things.
But also I want to open the floor a little. What would you like to hear from us about? Is there a game we should play? Anything you’d like to hear our thoughts on? Who should we link to for our growing audience? Speak your brains!
STRANGER & STRANGER
It’s been an odd old week up at Teeth towers, with a bit too much going on, frankly. I’ve been working on some new games projects, with all the enormity of creative output that implies, while Marsh and I have also been reworking our third TEETH one-shot adventure. This has suffered a necessary revision via the lens of HOGMEN and BLOOD COTILLION, which, as these things do, ended up changing how we felt about our own work. The third adventure (which was actually originally written before the other two, but after the bulk of the main forthcoming TEETH book) will be called now be called STRANGER & STRANGER. It is still being about extremely unfortunate villagers in our 1780s setting, but it’s a little broader than we’d originally envisioned. It’s got that “The Witcher-meets-Blackadder”sort of notion that we’ve been talking about, only really very much from the perspective of Baldrick.
STRANGER & STRANGER again uses our stripped down Forged In The Dark ruleset, but - as with each of the adventures - has its own twist. A mutational twist. It’s also the most open and freeform of the three zines, giving players and GM plenty of scope to explore the scenario and create their own adventures within the setting of the village and its surrounding bleak landscapes. We once again provide pre-written playbooks of the villagers, their equipment (such as it is) and their mutations, while also providing a template for you to create your own.
STRANGER & STRANGER goes much further in introducing the wider setting of TEETH, as well as delving a little into the history - the catastrophe which has required the King’s men to quarantine The Vale Of Deluth, and the people who now travel there with a view to pillaging the occult. It also has some rules for weather, and smells, as well as allowing me to used a phrase I’ve had pinned in notes for ages: “chased by a merciless farm animal.”
More on this soon, once we’ve done the playtesting and layout!
And first: links!
Also completely in love with the design of Mothership Zine Picket Line Tango.
News isn’t really our thing, but please let us add to the hype for the upcoming AGON supplement of Asgardian heroes.
Research this week leads us to Hannah Snell, “the female soldier”, an 18th century woman who fought as a soldier, and later owned a pub called either The Female Warrior or The Widow in Masquerade. The latter seems more poetic, eh?
It’s more than fair to say that TEETH is, along with much of my work, heavily influenced by the concept The Zone Of Alienation. It was inevitable then that we should play Laughing Kaiju’s narrative card game, THE ZONE, which boasts a very impressive online implementation, which is currently free to play.
The Zone is a zero-prep narrative card game of collaborative story-telling, which you can play with a bunch of people in your browser (there’s a Discord if you don’t have chums available). It teaches you to play, and the whole thing takes less than three hours. (We raced through it a bit, coming in at under two hours, but I’ll come to that.)
(It does not play anything like as fast as this gif suggests!)
Each player takes the role of one of a number of different characters, each with their own backstory and “phobias”. What happens next is reminscent of games like Fiasco, where there is “GM-less”, ie no one controlling player, story told, with everyone contributing to what happens. What makes The Zone far more approachable than, say, Fiasco or its cousins, is that everything in The Zone is prompted by cards - both the location cards which are laid out in a spiral to the centre of the zone, and in a series of prompts that help decide how things play out. The game leans heavily on the notion of “directing” a movie, with each of the rounds being explicitly called “scenes”.
All of this is set up via the cards, which mix a bunch of descriptions with actions, allowing both some chance in what happens, but also a great degree of control and determination along the players.
This means that there’s little of the umming and ahhing that goes with people trying to think up what happens next in these sorts of games, because there’s always something immediate to spark off for the next moment. There’s also a rotating role of “director”. While there’s no GM as such, each person gets a role choosing some of the variables for each location. As director you’ll describe what happens, and others will chime in on what there characters are doing with that. Once this is in motion a secound round of cards emerge, giving rise to a “something’s not right” round of pushing the mood towards horor, and then a “not so easy” round of describing the escalation of events (you might want to scare away a mutant at the zoo, for example, but that might attract the attention of even more horrors.) This card will decide whether what you wanted to happen actually takes place.
These events give rise to mutations in the players, which will both be fodder for later scenes, but also allow you to accrue points for the finale. You see, only one player is going to get to the center of The Zone, and ask the wish-granter what they will of it. And it’s the other players who will help decide how that unfolds. The deaths of the other players are prompted by the game itself - it’ll tell you when your time is up - but the other players don’t have to accept that, and can dive in to take your place at the last moment, creating narrative twists as the game unfolds. It’s all quite sparky stuff, with events emerging quite naturally.
I think we didn’t quite linger long enough with all this, as we got through the game in a couple of hours, and could have done more to expand scenes in specific locations. Most importantly, perhaps, we didn’t quite develop the sort of drama between characters that makes a movie, and I suspect that will take the sort of practice that several playthroughs would demand.
If I had a specific issue with the game, it’s that the mutation aspect hasn’t been filled out as much as I’d like. I’d like to have seen it more formalised on the interface somehow, so that it was more ready to hand for all players to riff off as the created the scenes.
We also felt like the writing parts of the game needed a sub-editing pass (inevitable when more than 50% of a group consists of professional writers and editors, perhaps) and the fact that some of this was of inconsistent quality ended up being distracting.
Nevertheless The Zone is an extraordinary accomplishment, and one of the best implementations of a card game I’ve seen online. That it was all done in a browser with no executable is just what I’d been hoping to see in the future of this sort of game. I’m keen to give this another go, not least because I think our first run meant we’d only just got the hang of it, but also because I am keen to see what other locations and other prompts end up throwing into the mix.
Next time: Gosh, I’m not sure actually. We’ll have to wait and see.
Love you! x