Wait, You Can Turn Tor.com Stories Into Tabletop Games?

Metatopia is an annual game developers’ convention in Morristown, NJ hosted by Double Exposure, Inc. This year, I was approached by game gurus Quinn Murphy (@qh_murphy on Twitter) and Dev Purkayastha (@DevP on Twitter) to partner with them and arrange a short fiction-themed game jam. And so on November 1st I was happy to attend the first Tor.com Antholojam! Participants chose a story from a selection of Tor.com originals, then spent an hour improvising the beginnings of a new game based on what they read. These games were created as an improvisational exercise, and are not commercially available anywhere. The event was a ton of fun, and the results sound very promising, so let’s check them out!

There’s something about the description of Aaron Corwin’s “Brimstone and Marmalade” that seems to grab the attention of game developers, in my limited experience. Two of the three groups found their inspiration in this wonderful story about a young girl and her pet demon, Ix’thor. I speculate that the stars were right and Ix’thor was in ascension, because the timing could not have been more perfect; “Brimstone and Marmalade,” our Halloween story for 2013, had only been published two days before the event. Like all of our stories, you can read it for free online.

Metatopia Tor.com Antholojam

The first group of designers focused on Ix’thor himself. This little demon is a Miniature Dark Lord (pedigree is very important in the pet demon business), but was unfortunate enough to be born without that breed’s signature massive horns. The designers took this absence of horns and used it to create a competitive demon-building game. Players take turns sacrificing animals from a set of face-up options to their pet demons in order to give them characteristics of those animals. The goal is for each player to optimize his or her demon to an ideal template. Even when there’s no useful animal to pick, though, a demon still has to eat. Unlucky players may find themselves sacrificing chunks of their own souls to their hungry charges. In its early stages, this game already has a number of compelling elements. It has the deep choice tree of a deck-building game, such as Dominion, Seven Wonders, or Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer, merged with the optimization and cuteness factors of Pokémon. Also, you can feed a tiny demon part of your soul! Admit you want to do that, or we can’t really be friends.

Metatopia Tor.com Antholojam

The second group that tackled “Brimstone and Marmalade” decided to delve more deeply into the young protagonist’s experience. They brainstormed up a role-playing game about young children making deals with devils. Prospective players of this game either take the role of a child, a demon, or a nicer authority figure like Mattie’s Nana, and together build a smooth, cooperative storytelling experience. The designers hope to craft a game where everyone is a player, operating without a Game Master, or a person whose sole role is to decide the story that the others will play out. The game reminds me of Fiasco, an indie RPG about crafting a high-stakes caper movie a la the Cohen brothers, although this game will use standard playing cards as a resolution mechanism instead of Fiasco’s dice system. Kids have to navigate the tense social and practical perils of childhood, while their demons try to tempt them with cards and power at the price of the corruption. Nanas will resist the demons, offering more positive guidance.

The third group decided to build off of a different story, the beautiful “Ink Readers of Doi Saket.” Thomas Olde Heuvelt’s short explores the lives of a village of wish granters in Thailand, a community that plays on their mystical reputation for great profit, accepting endless alms and discreetly granting petitioners’ wishes in order to keep the tradition alive. It’s one of the most beautiful stories of the year, and made our 2013 Best Of Tor.com Anthology, so I was thrilled to see it get the Antholojam treatment.

The designers decided to explore Heuvelt’s themes by gamifying his wish-granting festival. The result is an interactive storytelling game that takes the players through the steps of receiving wishes on the river, trying to grant those wishes, and then reaping the karmic rewards of their efforts. Players generate the initial wishes, receive assignments at random, then build scenes about fulfilling those wishes with other players. At the end, players who successfully and creatively fulfilled wishes draw closer to their own desires.

Watching Tor.com’s stories spark these ideas in the minds of creators was a wonderful experience. It was great to see fiction and gaming, two fields that I’ve enjoyed so deeply, come together and intermingle. Here’s hoping I get to someday play the finished versions of some Tor.com-inspired games!

Carl Engle-Laird loves games and game-like activities. He is an editorial assistant, Way of Kings rereader, and Stormlight Archive correspondent for Tor.com. You can follow him on Twitter here.


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