Demiurgent Business 2018-05-30

By Max Woerner Chase

In this post:

I'm going to try to run through Conspiracist, then start thinking about structure of play, where randomness should figure into this, stuff like that.


  • Conspiracist has a simple character creation process that allows the players to quickly design their low-level underling character. (Conspiracist is geared toward one-shot play.)
  • Characters are a race, which can provide special abilities, advantages, and disadvantages; some specialties, which provide the ability to always succeed on certain actions; occupations, which represent the character's "day job" and gives them special abilities; and a motivation, which explains why the character is working for a vast conspiracy.
  • The Mission is the overall unit of organization in play. A Mission is divided into the Planning state, and the Execution.
  • In the Planning state, the players receive a cryptic clue from the Controller, and brainstorm what it could mean. When they have come to agreement over the nature of their mission, they conclude the Mission Briefing with the ritual phrase "Illuminati confirmed". After this, the Controller decides how correct they are.
  • The Execution is "the rest of the game". Working from a rough outline devised in the Mission Briefing, the players attempt to reach their goals, while the Controller runs the NPCs, and introduces escalating levels of weirdness into the overall scenario.
  • Conspiracist allows for player characters to oppose each other, though there probably needs to be several plot twists executed before that makes sense, to oppose NPCs, and adverse circumstances.
  • These actions are resolved by one die roll per player (2 dice pick highest, if the player is meaningfully aided in the attempt). There are no frameworks for modifiers, though some of the occupations and one race provide +/-1 to some rolls. Instead, if the player can justify applying a specialty, they succeed without complications instead of rolling.
  • Failing a roll results in a Complication, which should be some meaningful obstacle that changes things for the players in some way. (The examples of play also indicate that "and weird stuff happens" is also acceptable on a success, so long as it doesn't interfere with the fact that the player achieved their immediate objective.)

Because the die rolls typically are even odds, the overall effect is that the player characters have narrow areas of specialization, and in most other circumstances are wildly out of their depth.

While the Mission Briefing is patterned on wild free-association in the service of working out conspiracies, I'm kind of flip-flopping on the question of whether "conspiracies" has particular thematic support in the bulk of gameplay. On the one hand, there are no rules whatsoever for dealing with characters who know too much, but on the other hand, the action resolution rules are designed to bring in unexpected wrinkles at least half the time. It's kind of like, there's so much gonzo weirdness, that some kind of super-science occult conspiracy is the best possible framing device to contextualize it.

Thinking about cooperative actions gives me some ideas for how to handle advancement in Demiurgent Business. Two characters can share any number of Bonds, based on some shared experience, and if that bond is relevant, the other character can add one die to a dice pool, if they aid in an action, or if that action is meant to benefit them.

So, we might have something like "Ame-san saved me from the sea monster that attacked the hot springs. [1] I'll give it my all to protect her from this Micro-Alien attack!" and that gives J. Doe there an extra die in his roll to fend off the Micro-Aliens.

I need to think more about how I want to actually use dice pools, particularly since I want to make determining the target number very simple, perhaps a constant.

Next week, I stop, or at least take a break from, reading and trying to analyze existing games, and try to apply my analysis to designing Demiurgent Business.

[1]It was a very small sea monster, clearly, and probably made up for it by being extra-monstrous.