Friday, December 9, 2016

At the Edge of the Woods: A small and simple game designed for lots of writing

The Edge of the Wood, part of the Indie Megamix Mixtape, is a roleplaying game that falls squarely into my current interests. It's a GM-free system that's designed to be played via email or forum. It is entirely build around the written word. 

At its heart, the game consists of taking turns writing stuff.

The game is broken down into two phases: character building and narrative building. Pretty much the way most RPGs work, really. First you make the characters and then you send them out into the world to have adventures.

The Edge of the Woods' character building is built around a bunch of lists. They include a bunch of character elements (what they are, what they can do, what they have and what they want), connections between characters and narrative elements. After you've done your bit with a list, you cross off one of the elements you've used and write down a new one. So the lists keep evolving and everyone gets to show how they would like the game to develop.

The narrative building phase of the game has the active player pick one of five different mini-games for the group to play. Each one uses a different form of interaction, although they all involve players taking turns writing.

These mini games include big events that shake up the entire setting, individual reactions to a specific narrative element or straight up character development. Some of them have players right out whole scenes while others have them just write a single sentence. One involves each player taking turns changing one word in a sentence that the active player wrote.

In other words, they aren't the same writing exercise about different subjects. Each one explores narrative and character development and writing in a different way.

The Edge of the Woods does read like a rough draft. The fact that it is only two pages long doesn't help. I have a feeling that if the game had a couple more pages, including a discussion on gameplay, it would tighten the game up and make it more accessible.

As it is, I am most likely to play it with friends who have played a lot of narrative-driven games and games-by-post so I am confident in our ability to make it work. Still, like I always say, a group can often determine if a game will work. The Edge of the Wood has the special burden of play by post. Great if folks can't get together but easy for people to forget to take a turn.

I also have to note that the default lists, which describe a lighthearted fairytale setting with gnomes and talking animals, could easily be rewritten without having any mechanical issue. You could take the mechanics of The Edge of the Woods and make it horror or science fiction or modern business drama. I am actually tempted to try doing a Star Wars hack of the system and I'm not even that much of a Star Wars fan.

The Edge of the Woods is very much a niche game, specifically designed as a game built around writing and playing via some sort of computer interface. But as someone who loves writing and has a lot of friends who live in different time zones, I am solidly in that niche. I have a feeling that I will end up trying it out and I think we will have fun.

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