Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Submitted For Your Consideration



You are about to enter another dimension,
A dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind.
You're moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas.
A journey into a wondrous land of imagination.

Next stop...

Obviously I don't have enough on my gaming plate right now with Traveller, Pendragon, my NaGaDeMon project and finishing The StoryTeller. I need to suddenly get obsessed with another game concept. If I've said it once, I've say it a thousand times; My brain doesn't know how to stop coming up with ideas for RPGs. Sometimes they're even good. Like (I hope) this one.
Like the Muppets, Star Trek, the Smurfs, Futurama* and of course, Sid and Marty Krofft**, The Twilight Zone is one of my long time IP obsessions. I have seen all the episodes a few times over, largely thanks to the annual Twilight Zone marathons that show on the we-can't-spell-Sci-Fi channel. Long before there was such a channel, there were local stations that did the same thing, usually around Independence Day, New Years Day or Thanksgiving.
Nothing says "I love America", "Happy New Year" or "I am thankful for this food" quite like a society of monsters thinking a pretty girl is horrific.
As with anything I like that is not already an RPG, the first question that springs to my mind is, "How do I make this into an RPG?"
I can think of two ways:
The more traditional approach would be to create a series of PCs in a modern or period setting (the 1950's or 60's perhaps) and have them investigate strange, surreal happenings in a manner not too different from Call of Cthulhu characters or PCs in a game of Chill or Stalking The Night Fantastic.
While that would certainly be the easy way to go, it might not be the best way. It certainly doesn't take into account all the myriad story, character and setting possibilities a game based on this particular show could cover.
My second and preferred approach therefore is to have each player control one or more 'Actors'. An 'Actor' would be a PC with some set stats and abilities perhaps but with a skill set that could be swapped out and changed for different knacks and knowledges appropriate to the 'Episode' or adventure session.
Thinking a bit further, maybe 'Actor' isn't the right name for it. I imagine character types or templates like 'Average Joe', 'Girl Next Door', 'Reporter', 'Hobbyist' or 'Soldier'.
If the session involves a Reporter on the front lines in World War II investigating strange lights in the sky, than the Reporter would gain some skills for surviving combat and the Soldier would be tailored for trench fighting, for example. In a small town haunted by an old wives tale about not playing near the reservoir or 'Missy Green will get you', the Soldier becomes a cop or a fellow back from the war. The Reporter becomes a local man working for the town newspaper and the Girl Next Door a School Teacher or, a Girl Next Door I suppose.
Any and all of these can be modernized but I think if I ran The Twilight Zone as an RPG I would want that period feel and would never set any scenario too close to the invention of digital cameras and smart phones. Once you have present day computers you open up a can of worms. Still, the themes and concepts in The Twilight Zone are essentially timeless. Perhaps I would go modern once in a while after all.
Mechanics wise, well that's when things get a little harder. I have thought about going back to the one RPG already in existence that's as close as you can get to a Twilight Zone game...Over The Edge. Not sure. Need to reread my copy and see if it really captures the tone and style I am looking for.
Risus, InSpectres and other similar games would also work I believe but I would have to test them out first. They would probably require some detail to be added.
One idea for a mechanic that came to me just today was a 'Twilight Point'.
I want the players to have access to the opposite of a Hero or Drama Point. Basically, doing...something, I am not sure what...during the game gets you points that you can spend to make the situation worse. That's right, you spend Twilight Points to shift blame to another PC or cause things to become more complicated for everyone. Perhaps, if the situation has a time limit you spend a point and shorten the amount of time you all have.
You would want to do it to stay on the theme and reinforce the atmosphere but there needs to be some other in-game incentive for it as well. Still thinking on that.
I had another idea while responding to a comment on this game concept in the NaGaDeMon Facebook Group. There is a free RPG created by the sublime genius of Andrew Peregrine called Doom & Cookies. I may have mentioned it before. I may not have.
Not only is this game written by a guy named after a falcon, but it also may hold the key to how I want the Twilight Points to work.
In Doom & Cookies, the objective is to finish the game with at least 1 Cookie (a good thing) and no Dooms (a Doom being a bad thing). Regardless of what these mean in the context of that game, you get the idea that if you have a Doom and No Cookies or a Cookie and a Doom you do not get to win or succeed at the game's finale. My ghost RPG Unfinished Business has a very similar mechanic and I didn't really even think of it until now.
So what if, to be spared the Twilight Zone twist ending, to succeed or at the very least escape, you need to be rid of your Twilight Points and have at least one point of...of...Insight. Yes. A touch of Insight and no Twilight.
I can already see some of the episodes of the original show explained in this fashion.
OMG. I think this is something I can really make work.
Anyway, I am going to revisit this idea periodically or at some point at least, later this month. I hope I can finish at least one of my insane ideas before month's end.
Barking Alien
*Yes, I have actually created a homebrew Futurama RPG. I hope to post it here one of these days.
**No, I have not created a Sid and Marty Krofft RPG. This is something of a reoccurring joke or running gag here at Barking Alien. I've done the Smurfs and the Muppets so I wouldn't put it past me to stat up the Far Out Space Nuts or H. R. Pufnstuf.


  1. OK, I'll have a go ... as a story concept, great idea; as an RPG, I can't see it working except as one-offs. And I would think that would pall for the players after a while.

    As I was thinking about the idea, it occurred to me this idea needs a second idea to bounce off.

    How about this - there is a meta-story in play. The meta-story is that the characters are field agents for some sort of multi-dimensional, multi-chronology agency - the Paratime Agency from H. Beam Piper; the Crosstime Agents from Andre Norton; Sapphire and Steel; Philip K. Dick; Robert Heinlein; Joe-90; Mission Impossible (the 60's series);that sort of thing.

    The characters become active in a new location, sometimes similar or sometimes different - Agent Joe Smith finds that his driver's licence is in the name of Citizen Jhoh Smyth for example - sometimes they have technology to track each other down and sometimes they have to use code words; there's a briefing or mission outline that comes from an untraceable source and some form of skill swap/upgrade so that team scientist is now a chemist, or the team Protector can now drive local vehicles or operate local weapons (like the Joe-90 skill upgrade), and then the team has to solve the mystery.

    If the Agency is trying to maintain Order across the multiverse, then the Characters are trying to reduce Twilight, or Entropy, while gaining Enlightenment, Order.

    I think this will give the Players something larger to aim for, gets them involved with their characters and a group sense of success, if they unravel the mystery and prevent Twilight, or sense of "do-better" if Twilight gets the better of them in an adventure.

    Hope this helps.

  2. Thanks for the input David. Very helpful, if not necessarily in the way I would like.

    Your idea sounds great and that is definitely a campaign concept I would love to run and even play. It mixes and merges a number of ideas I like and shares some nice lineage. In addition to the books and shows you mention, there is also a little Quantum Leap, Life on Mars and even Doctor Who in there.

    The trouble is, if I made it all those things, I feel it would be less 'The Twilight Zone'.

    When I develop my IP games I try to bring them as close to the idea and atmosphere of the IP as possible. Sometimes this makes for an awesome game, fully capable of being run long term. Sometimes it doesn't.

    Star Trek, Star Wars, The Smurfs and even my Futurama project work well and fairly easily as campaigns.

    The Muppets, while campaign-capable with a little adjustment, is a lot better for one-offs and convention games. In some of its variants it works as a campaign (The Land of Gorch, for example) but in it's 'classic' form (The Muppet Show), not quite as much.

    Personally I feel the same way about Marvel Heroic. Your mileage may vary.

    So perhaps The Twilight Zone is not as translatable to a Twilight Zone RPG as it is a Twilight Zone-esque Dimensional Espionage RPG.

    Food for thought, here, in The Twilight Zone.

    Doo-doo-DOO-doo, Doo-doo-DOO-doo

  3. I was really hoping for a Bugaloos RPG.

  4. This is a very interesting idea, BA! I'd love to see it done. It does have it's challenges. I think of some of my favorite episodes, "It's a Good Life," "Living Doll," "To Serve Man,"... and so many others. Hard to pull off stuff like this in gaming I think. Maybe not impossible, with creativity, but also not without pitfalls. Would take player buy-in and a GM not obsessed with cramming his preconceived story down players' throats. Your Twilight-Insight idea is good I think, helps to create increasing tension characteristic of many episodes. It's going to be a challenge but it would be really cool to see a game sticking closely to the TZ IP, in spite of the challenges. Not sure how possible it is, but neat to think about.

    Part of me says, throw in Kolchak (Night Gallery, Tales from the Darkside too). Make a more generic game along those lines, which would be different in flavor and purpose to the "dimensional espionage" game. But then, no, I really think the pure TZ thing would be excellent, if it is possible.

    About Sid and Marty, it appears the internet might have a gaping hole in it! No one, it seems, has stated up Electra Woman for any game system! Unless I missed it.

    Love the blog. Gotta run, time for lunch....... kaBoooOOOM..... I said lunch not launch!!! :)

    1. That's for the visit and the support Philip. The more I think about this idea the more I think I could build a game and a mechanic for this, but not for long term play. That is, I would not design it for campaign use from the get-go, but rather as a fun one-shot, convention game or even 'RPG as party game', a subject I have thought about many times and should probably do a more dedicated post on.

      As for Electra Woman and the ever adorable Dyna Girl, I think someone on Atomic Think Tank (the official Mutants & Masterminds Message Board/Forum) did them up for M&M 2E or 3E but I could be mistaken.

      Far Out Space Nuts, The Lost Saucer, The Bugaloos, H.R. Pufnstuf and of course, Sigmund and The Sea Monsters, are all ripe for RPG campaign goodness.

      Hmmm. Far Out Space Nuts + Lost Saucer + Lost In Space = The Shiznit!

    2. Not true. Electrawoman and Dynagirl are written up for Superworld on the BRP site forum.

    3. I also thought that the original 'Net Book of Real Heroes' (An old Champions fansite that still exists but is not longer maintained to my knowledge) had their stats as well.

  5. It would be fun. I have the idea the twilight zone was very much about someone who has to learn something. That migth be a problem for repeating characters, but also could be useful as mechanic.

    When i read about the cookies and doom stuff it comes to my mind that an option could be a insight point sytem, where players have to pass some challenges to get some points and have a good ending. It could be even better if they really don't know they passed or not sometimes :P

    BTW, doesn't seems A Christmas Carol to be quite similar in idea and style to Twilight's stories?

    1. Many Twilight Zone episodes are really simply retellings of classic Aesop's Fables, moral to the story and all. On occasion, the moral was flipped or a cynical or ironic approach to the theme was used instead of what one would expect. This is part of what gave TZ it's brilliance. At the time of its original airing you really didn't know what to expect.

      A Christmas Carol, a Dickensian Twilight Zone tale if ever there was one. I couldn't agree more.