Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Updating Venice

I’m curious to know what’s the least I have to do to make a game written at Peaky presentable.

I’m not talking about endless rewriting, or honing it to within an inch of perfection, but presenting the game with minimum rewriting so that others can see the kind of thing we get up to at Peaky, warts and all.

I’ve written about the Post-Peaky Writing Process before, following my update of The Highgate Club in 2010, but I now wonder if we needed to go that far. I don’t begrudge the changes I made to The Highgate Club, but maybe I didn’t have to do that much.

My thinking about this was prompted by this NZ rant. I don’t want to present the raw Peaky files (as that would be dreadful), but I want to see what can be done with a typical Peaky game without spending weeks on a rewrite.

So I thought I’d give it a go.


I’ve decided to develop Venice, a game from Peaky 2013 for 15 people that I wrote with Tym Norris and Kate Dicey. We had a bit of help from Debbie Hollingworth on the Friday night, before she had to drop out.

Inevitably, the nature of three people writing a 15 player freeform doesn’t result in a densely plotted game. Instead, Venice is what I think of as a ‘factions’ game. In this case, the factions are Venice’s ruling families, and the prize is power (as measured by status).


I can’t remember exactly what time we finished writing. But a typical Peaky Saturday include starts at 9am and finishes at 10pm, with two hour long breaks (lunch and tea). That’s 11 hours of writing each, or 33 hours. So my challenge is to get Venice into shape in less than 33 hours. (Or preferably, no more than the 11 hours I’ve already spent on it.)

First, though, I needed to work out what Venice looked like. We wrote it in 2013, and I’ve slept since then. And looking at the files in our Dropbox folder, they’re a bit of a mess. (Lots of duplicates.) So I’ve spent a bit of time sorting them out. I’ve not included that in my hourly log, as I figure that ideally I’d do this straight after Peaky and with a bit of luck I’d still remember everything.

Scope of the work

So my base plan is to make Venice presentable - which means checking on errors and typos. I am not going to write any significant new plots, or add any characters. My starting point for this is that the game as played at Peaky is just about there. (That may be an assumption too far, but bear with me.)

But because I am me, I cannot bear to leave well enough alone. So I’m making a few changes:

I want to make it easy for people to improve Venice: My plan for Venice is to stick it on the Internet and allow other gamers to download and run it for free. If they want to amend it and add extra characters, then great. I might also want to do that when I come to running it again, and I want to make it easy. (And I’m hoping that they will share their ideas as well, and help make Venice even better.)

Player involvement: I want to include a couple of ideas I had for Venice following What Happened in Blackpool. I wrote about these here, but essentially I want to let the families to decide why they hate their rivals, and I want everyone to publicly state what their overall goal is. Neither of these are big changes, but I suspect they will have an impact on play.

So here’s what I did

Checked with the other authors: I made sure that the other authors were happy with what I proposed. Happily they were.

Recreate the Information sheets: When we wrote the game, we created lots of sheets of information - for the Inquisition, the Navy, the Heretics, and the like. Because we had a bit of time, we folded these into the characters. However, because I want to make it easy to adapt and expand, I wanted them separated again.

So that’s what I’ve done.

(I understand the school of thought that wants such sheets embedded in the character backgrounds. It means that you can tailor them exactly to the character, and makes printing the game easy. However, in my experience there often isn’t all that much tailoring done (certainly not for Venice) And burying them in character sheets makes it much harder to make changes - if you want to add another Heretic, or change their objectives slightly, you’ve got to remember to change everything or risk continuity errors. It is, however, pretty easy just to stitch pdfs together if you want to create a single character sheet with everything in it.)

A side effect of this is that it makes the game very flexible. If you don’t have 15 people, you can drop one and just move the information sheet over to another character with minimal rewriting.

A sprinkling of formatting:I don’t think we had any formatting for Peaky, which is a shame as it wouldn’t have taken much (but can be a real pain when you’re juggling files). So I’ve added a light sprinkling of formatting - a nicer font, a background image for old paper (that I originally used for Pirate Island), a front page for each character. But that’s about it.

Adding a cast list and rivalries diagram: I’ve added a cast list, and player feedback suggested that we include the rivalries diagram that we used to help us write the game. So that’s been added.

Moving status rules to general rules: We had secret rules for managing the family status (all the families have a goal to maximise their status). I think it is more fun if the families can see how they can influence their status, so I’ve added them to the player rules.

Adding an introduction: I added an introduction, with the rules and notes about casting and the game timetable. I’m not expecting anyone to run the game as it is, but they can if they want to. I’ve also taken the opportunity to talk about things that could be developed further - should anyone want to.

Corrected some errors: I spotted a few errors as I went through the files. I’ve sorted those out as I’ve found them. No doubt there are still some in there.

Released it under a Creative Commons sharealike licence. This licence lets anyone publish and use Venice, providing that a) anything they do is attributed back to the original authors, and b) anything that they further develop is also released under the same licence.

I’ve done this for a couple of reasons. One, I’d like to encourage others to amend Venice to suit their taste, and this licence seems a good way of promoting that. Two, it also allows Peaky Games to publish Venice, should they decide to do so.

What I haven’t done

And here’s what I haven’t done…

Rename the characters: The family names all suffer from a bit of Peaky-itis: the Corleones, Sopranos, Capones, Montagues and Capulets. They give the right idea (powerful families), but in my opinion only the last two really give the flavour of mythic Venice that we were aiming for. The character’s first names are a bit too modern for my liking, as well. But I haven’t changed them; they’ll do.

Adding characters or plots: I haven’t added any new plots or characters. That’s deliberate, even though I know that some characters are weaker than others. (That’s another advantage of splitting out the information sheets from the characters - it becomes really obvious who the weaker characters are.)

I do think it would be very easy to add more characters or plots, I just haven’t done it. That’s not the goal of this exercise.

So how long did it all take?

I kept track of time and I reckon it took me about eight hours to do all this.

It may not be perfect, but I’m pretty sure even with no further development Venice will entertain 15 players for about 2.5 hours, which isn’t bad return on effort.

What next?

I’m quite happy at how this has turned out.

I now want to run Venice again at some point, to see how my changes to the introduction impact on play.

And given that it didn’t take me that long to do, I’m sure it won’t be long before I give the same treatment to another Peaky freeform.

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