In the journaling RPG Dave ex Machina, you are an ordinary muggle named Dave who was accidentally summoned instead of a demon or some kind of other supernatural being. You’re still stuck doing whatever act you were summoned for and you only have a limited time to do it.
Dave ex Machina shot to the top of my list of journaling on the basis of concept alone.
Character creation and world creation are fairly easy. You assign some trivial skills, none of which can be combat-based, to Dave, along with some random item. You build a world by mashing three different works together. Figure out what Dave has to do (which is implied to always be assassination) and roll up some random challenges.
You have 19 time units (you decide what kind of time units) to complete the job. Journaling, you describe the challenges Dave encounters and how he tries to deal with them.
Conflict resolution is simple. Roll 3d6. Decide if that roll is Dave’s or his opposition. Roll three more dice. If Dave exceeds the opposition roll by more than three, he succeeds. If he is over by less than three, it’s basically null. Failure is failure unless you fail so spectacularly that Dave succeeds. Every action costs time.
The two things I like about Dave Ex Machina are the core concept, which is hilarious, and the world building. The X meets Y meets Z method of world building isn’t complex or deep but lends itself to quickly making something fun and silly.
What I don’t like is the conflict resolution and the time limit.
While, honestly, the game includes ways of mitigating luck (honestly to the point where failure isn’t likely), the randomness feels counter to the rest of the structure of the game. And I would rather have a ‘yes but’ result rather a null result.
The time counter is actually a bigger problem. If you have one roll resolve each scene, you’ll never run out of time. If you make conflicts more granular, then you’ll never have enough time.
That said, the mechanics of a journaling game aren’t the point. They are simply prompts, giving direction and focus to your writing. What matters is what you write.
From that viewpoint, Dave ex Machina was successful for me. I had fun and I was inspired to write. However, I think there is plenty of room for improvements.
A question I have to ask ‘Will it work for someone who doesn’t write all the time as a hobby?’ And, as much fun as I had, I think the answer has to be no.
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