[Grand Tour] Some Thoughts and Ideas

Originally posted at Master Mines.

After my last post, there were two comments in particular (#7 & #8) that really left me thinking and have been bouncing about in my head for a while. This is the result of that.

First, Ryan asked if the game is about being in the trip, or about retelling a trip that has passed. An excellent and essential question that I thought I had addressed, but realized I had not.

The game, in all the ways I have envisioned it, has always been about telling the story of a trip. At first I thought there was no difference whether it was in the present or past tense, but since Ryan threw that out there, I have been mulling it over. I would rather the game happen in the present, say with a statement like, “And thus begins our grand tour,” as opossed to “And thus began our grand tour.” That choice of verb tense has made me realize that the mechanics I need to build have to support a present-tense storytelling experience where all the participants, or Travelers, are equally involved in telling the story but also being surprised by the unforseen twists that come during any tour. Which leads me to my next point.

Robert Bohl suggested that I “give in” to my system hack desires and start writing Grand Tour as a Primetime Adventures hack, then take it from there. I like his idea. I sometimes feel self-conscious about doing system hacking as opossed to writing rules from the ground up, like I’ll be looked down upon, like I’m not a real game designer (I know it comes from the fact that my main source of system hacking design is d20, but that is an issue for another day). So screw that. PTA showed me a lot of very interesting things about story framing and simple conflict resolution with ubiquitous items such as cards that I’d be a fool not to allow myself to be inspired by it. So Grand Tour, as it stands, is starting life as a PTA hack geared towards telling stories of people traveling on a tour.

What I most like about the PTA resolution mechanic is how the suits and colors play into the results of the conflict. I have also been inspired by the rash of games lately that are using rich rolling (to use Fred Hicks’ term), extracting as much information as possible from one roll. So coupled with the paragraph above and my target verb tense, what I need to do is create a way for the card-based resolution to yield a variety of information that can be used to dictate how the narration for a scene should go. Suit, color and value will obviously feature heavily here, but what I am trying to figure out is a way for the results to also introduce the complications.

I have a couple of ideas rolling around that I want to put down in writing: for example, having each suit represent an aspect of the Tour like Budget, Entertainment or Stamina, so that when a particular card comes up, based on the suit, it dictates something about the scene that needs to be incorporated; or having certain cards in the deck represent complications, so that if they come up, something just went wrong and all players are surprised by it; or having each player be represented by a suit or an individual card, so that if that suit/card comes up, it dictates who is involved in the next scene.

So that’s what I’m working on, grabbing PTA and figuring out what works and what doesn’t for the game I want to write, so that I can start hacking the system to accomplish the things I need specifically.


  1. Daniel,

    I totally grok what you wrote about feeling like doing a system hack instead of a ground-up system design makes you feel like “not a real game designer”. I have felt that way for a while, too, and furthermore have felt unworthy to openly interact with and get feedback from “real” game designers. I think that your bold choice to go with a PTA hack is awesome and inspiring. Not only that, but it exponentially amps up my desire to play your game. And I was pretty jazzed about it in the first place.

    Go for it, my friend. You rock!

    Mick Bradley


  2. Actually, let me clarify: I personally do feel that system hacking IS game design, but up until now I have gotten a vibe from the design community that it isn’t. I had a conversation with Judd at Gen Con about this and I thanked him for standing up for that definition as well in some posts here and there, especially because he is also a system hacker and no one denies him being a game designer. My issue was the contempt towards d20, and since that’s what I do mostly, then ergo I cannot be a “real” game designer, but I’ve come to the conclusion that this is all in my head, so away it goes.

    So yes, system hacking IS game design as much as building rules from scratch, and though there are people who don’t agree, there are also people who like clam juice, and there’s nothing I can do about either group except respect their right to their opinion and stand by mine.

    System Hackers of the World, UNITE!


  3. Righto, dude, I agree with you. In my rare self-confident moments, I think it’s game design, too. In fact, I suspect that it might be the only level of game design I might actually be interested in pursuing. I really have no desire at this time to create a game from scratch. That might change, yeah, but I need to get this first one done first anyway.

    I guess my point was that I have this voice in my head telling me I’m not worthy to jump into a collective like yours or go try to dialogue with Fred or Rob or Chad, or anyone else, because I’m not really doing what they’ve done – I’m lesser-than. But in my heart I know that’s bunk, and your coming out and saying so gives me motivation and inspiration and kicks my inner-demon square in the ass.

    So thanks.



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