Speaking with Monsters
At this point, the Caravan Endures is entering the final stages of development, and while it's not done yet, and I have a lot of feedback to incorporate, I feel like I'm entering the final stretch. But, while I'm tweaking that and getting all the art assets ready, I've started working on my next game- Speaking with Monsters!
Speaking with Monsters is the game I've been wanting to make for a solid year now, ever since I read this article about Monsters, and the idea that, "A monster is a symptom that somewhere, somehow, the world has gotten f***ed up."
This concept led me to the idea of a game where you are a group of social workers, trying to fix the situation that led to hostile monsters. However, after some reflection, I began to think about my work in crisis deescalation, and how a large part of that is all about understanding the situation, building healthy communication, and how a lot of the work is accomplished by really understanding the situation and putting your own idea of normal on hold and understanding what success looks like for the clients. This approach led me to a realization that I don't want a game where it's the humans fixing things.
I want to make a game where the humans were the ones that f***ed things up in the first place and have the opportunity to make it right.
This game takes place after a xenophobic human empire has fallen, and you play a group of humans tasked with building up diplomacy with monsters that do not think, communicate, or value things in the same way that humans do. A game where you are trying to build a better world through making meaningful connections with communities of monsters in the wild, and using that shared understanding as a the bedrock to share resources, exchange knowledge, and build alliances.
So, Speaking with Monsters was born. The game is a lot shorter than The Caravan Endures (30 pages for the base rules thus far, vs 90 for the latest draft of The Caravan Endures) and is less of a therapeutically oriented game, and more focused on role playing, problem solving, and story. While there is certainly room for it to be used within a therapeutic context (I think this is true of any TTRPG), I am making it for people to try something different. The game itself is nonviolent, and focuses on problem solving and creative thinking as a way of getting ahead.
So with my first alpha done and in limited circulation (if you want a copy of the public alpha, DM me on twitter), here's what I can say.
-The game is built around having interviews with a representative of the monster settlement you are visiting. Each day, you get to try to communicate with them, then based on what you find out and how that goes, you regroup, discuss, prepare, and try again. It's not split into phases or anything like that, but more player driven action.
-The game itself uses a stripped down d20 system, rather than shared dice pools. There is a space for collaborative rolling, but it is very simple. I feel a lot of games tend to make things a lot more complicated than they need to be, and often pull from more combat oriented RPGs that feature a lot of complexity to create balance and interesting combat encounters. I try to avoid that, so it's very minimalist on the rules front.
-The players enter a situation with only part of the picture, having been provided with some clues (either from an old book, a NPC's correspondence, or other sources), and go into situations where they are going to make mistakes.
-Failure is a big part of this game. This may occur through mixed messages, comedic miscommunications, or just not having all the pieces. Your first interview with the monster representative is likely going to be pretty awkward. And that's ok.
-There is a sidequest section, where the monsters may highlight issues that they are facing that they can't solve, but you can step in to help to build goodwill.
-Each monster species has a category that indicates what sort of theme will be present- thus far, the categories are: Story (useful for telling a narrative of how the monsters came to be in this situation, the history of the world, etc), comedy (situations that are likely to create a lot of awkward, bizare, or just goofy encounters), puzzle (monsters with communication that is a lot more technical and requires thinking outside the box), friendship (more heavy role playing oriented scenarios that build up the relationship with the monsters), and training (very easy scenarios to build familiarity with the system.)
-My favorite monster scenario involves a community of undead whose biggest issue is that they keep on killing all the sages that come to learn about their history and ways. This is not out of any ill will or aggression, rather, the problem is that if they like you, they murder you so you can join their community.
-There are four classes- Scholar, Healer, Ranger, and Minstrel, each with very different skillsets. Scholars tend to be able to gather information and history about the monsters, as well as handle any scientific or academic queries. They are best suited towards more puzzle heavy scenarios, i/e determining the specific types of communication spores that are being released and how to understand them. Rangers are naturalists, who are better suited for scenarios that require a lot more traditional fantasy role playing, i/e being able to delve into a ruins to obtain a cure for a plague that is ravaging a community. Healers are more heavily focused around role playing and dealing with pain, which can have a significant piece with monsters who are still processing the trauma and pain of the war with humans. Finally, minstrels are bards, and are well suited towards more humorous role playing or situations that require art to communicate. In any scenario, each class has a number of tools that can help them communicate in their own way. This game is as much about communicating with monsters as it is about understanding the way we can communicate with others.
-The monster list will be its own document. Each monster scenario is about 2 pages long, and outlines how they communicate, the mission, information about the monsters, what the biggest challenge the party will face is. The reason for this being its own document is that the players will be able to immediately communicate successfully with the monsters if all the social nuances are known. There's also a template for GMs to create their own scenarios.
-It's not necessarily meant to be played as a campaign. It can be, but the focus is more about individual scenarios.
-There is a section for romancing the monsters. Initially I was fully against this, as I didn't want to make a game that was fundamentally a monster dating sim (yet). However, on reflection, I realized that making a game that could accidentally turn into a monster dating sim is amazing. (Or, intentionally, if we're being honest. And if the horny bard wants to seduce the monster, who am I to tell them that's wrong.)
-As far as progress towards completion goes, I have a basic version of the rules done, but I'm still editing it heavily. I don't think it's ready for playtesting quite yet, but I hope to make a lot of progress on that front soon.
-The concept of love languages plays heavily into this, and while I did not design this to be therapeutic, I feel like that is something that can be explored by a therapeutic group.
-While this game is inherently nonviolent, there are still spaces where martial ability comes into play. You may be called to join in a ceremonial hunt, or show off your fighting ability as a proof of strength and worthiness. However, there is no death mechanic (with the exception of the undead, who will absolutely kill you if they decide they like you. However, you are not killed outright, you just come back as a sentient zombie, and have to deal with that.)
-It's designed for 2-6 players, and can be played as a game between a GM and a single player. I feel like that is more oriented towards players who want to build a friendship or deeper relationship with the monsters.
-Unlike The Caravan Endures, which is very much setting agnostic, this game has an existing world and backstory, although I am trying to keep it as open as possible to allow enterprising GMs to come up with their own ideas.
-I do intend to add a mechanic for monsters you befriend to join your party.
-A lot of my inspiration for this game comes from Undertale and Starbound, with the whole plot around uniting a group of individuals from disparate communities towards a common goal through engaging with their culture and history is the key to success.
-The current monsters I have completed are giant spiders, mushroomfolk, and undead. I intend to add a skeleton army (cult deprogramming), automatons (computer science), goblins (hijinks), a few human groups (more diplomacy heavy), elves and dwarves (training wheels), dragons (high fantasy), mimics/doppelgangers (weird mixed messages), werewolves (because why not) and many others.
Anyway, that's what I can share about Speaking with Monsters, and I'm very excited about getting a public beta and a more fleshed out monster list out. If you want to learn more and keep tabs on this game, give me a follow on twitter: @rollforkindness, and DM me if you want the latest updates!