Bill White's roleplaying game design blog, with emphasis on narrativist or story-heavy games.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Ganakagok: A Fantasy Roleplaying Game

Ganakagok, my Iron Game Chef game (runner-up, I should say) from 2004 is finally published. That's a long time to be working on a project, but of course my dissertation took longer.

Two other games came out of that contest (last year) that I'm aware of, Ben Lehman's Polaris and Tim Kleinert's The Mountain Witch. I like to think that that puts Ganakagok in august company.

Of course, putting something up on Lulu isn't quite the same as fronting for an actual print run, but I'll be hauling copies to Dexcon this year and to other cons down the road.

This is the first thing I ever wrote about Ganakagok, once the Iron Game Chef muse spoke to me:

For a thousand years, the stars have shone down on Halakat, the Sea of Tears, burning brightly in a sky that was always dark. Now in the east the horizon has brightened to grey, and the stars have begun to fade. The shamans of the People speak of the rising of the Sun.

For a thousand years, the People have lived upon Ganakagok, the Island of Ice, in the midst of the Sea of Tears. This mountain of ice, floating in a cold sea, has been carved into soaring spires and dizzying stairs, immense caverns and intricate labyrinths. The legends of the People speak of the Ancient Ones who carved it so, to escape the falling of Night.

Dawn is coming to the Island of Ice. The stars are fading. The sea is growing warmer. The world is changing. Will the People survive the change?
So what's Ganakagok like to play? (There're actual play reports from last year's Dexcon here and here). In essence, it's like any other roleplaying game: you create a character who is then located in a particular in-game situation to which you react, making reference as you do to the game's rules for resolving character actions. The devil, as they say, is in the details.

Character creation begins with a draw of three cards from the Ganakagok deck, which is essentially a normal 52-card deck in which the normal suits have been replaced with Tears, Flames, Storms, and Stars and the face cards with Ancient, Man, Woman, and Child (so you draw the Ancient of Tears, not the Ace of Spades). Each card has additional motifs (so the Ancient of Tears is also called Anuk, meaning "Polar Bear" or "to overcome or master"). The suit and value of the card can also produce an oracular meaning (see the description of the deck in the preview in Lulu).

Each player reads his cards to come up with a "truth-vision" (what convinced him that Ganakagok was changing), a change-hope (what he hopes the change will bring), and a change-fear (what he fears likewise). Once the player has done that (and it sometimes takes a lot of coaching to enable a player to make the leap to "just reading the cards"), the character is, oh, 90% complete. There are still some in-game and mechanical choices to be made (the character's name and identity, his stats and "Gifts"), but once you've figured out your character's backstory, the rest is easy. And figuring it out is the first thing Ganakagok makes you do.

Based on what the players come up with in terms of characters, the GM fleshes out the situation, coming up with an "imagined cosmology" and mechanical rules to rules to support it (the Metaplot); these are largely cut-offs and thresholds for determining who gets to say what happens at the end of the game. The GM also frames the initial situation for the tribe and for each player individually each turn. Ganakagok cards play a heavy role here as well.

Each turn, the GM draws and reads a Ganakagok card to determine a character's basic situation. The character acts in response to that situation (the player describes his pursuit of a particular goal or course of action) until the GM decides that things have reached a crux: it's time to roll dice. Stakes are set by reference to a card, and the roll of the dice determines the initial trend of the action (good or bad) as well as who gets to narrate the immediate situation (player or adversary). At this point, people get to "react," going around the table in order invoking Gifts to shift dice up or down and thus change the outcome or narration rights or both. Once everyone is finished reacting, the consequences are narrated and the player assigns a kind of "fallout" by specifying how the Good and Bad Medicine of the action manifest.

Each player-turn takes a while, but because other players can participate through their reactions, engagement stays pretty high.

Over the course of the game, Good and Bad Medicine totals will build up for each character, for the People as a whole, and for Ganakagok (i.e., the world). At the end of the game (after a certain number of turns or a specified time interval, e.g.), if you have more Good Medicine than Bad, things go your way; otherwise, they don't. Of course, if things turn out bad for Ganakagok, having things go your way may just mean the best seat in the house at the Apocalypse, but that's part of the fun. The "final fates" of Ganakagok and the People get narrated based on the Metaplot rules the GM created, and players get to narrate their characters' final fates in line with what has already been narrated.

And that's pretty much the game.


Moondazed said...

I played this game two nights ago and it was incredible! Not only is the game awesome, the tarot cards are exquisite and Bill is a wicked-good GM! Thank you so much... I'm hooked!

Anonymous said...

So... somebody posted a link to this entry on Story Games just a couple of days ago, but the Lulu listing for the game appears to be gone. Has it been moved to another venue or format?

Bill White said...

I'm currently revising the game to refute charges that it's "half-baked." Send me e-mail at whitewj11 at yahoo dot com and I'll send you a link to the in-progress revision on Google Docs, if you're interested. I'll be running it at Dreamation in East Brunswick in New Jersey on January 25, if you're interested.

-- Bill

Metavosk said...

Hey, I'm apparently internet-retarded today. I played Ganakagok at Camp Nerdly this weekend, loved it and wanted to pick up the latest copy of the rules/cards. But I'm having the darnedest time finding it in either PDF or print form. Any chance you could help me out Bill?


Bill White said...

Hi Mark --

I'm really glad you liked the game! I want Jeff to post an AP somewhere so I can find out what happened; it sounded pretty cool.

I'm in the process of revising the rules and preparing them and the cards for publication. Shoot me an e-mail at whitewj11 AT yahoo DOT com and I'll send you a PDF of the latest playtest draft; give me a mailing address and I'll send you a deck of the cards.

-- Bill

About Me

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A communication Ph.D., I teach public speaking and media-related courses in the middle of PA. I do research on scholarly/scientific communication, and I write & play roleplaying games.