Design Journal: The Imp Of The Perverse
Posted by Nathan P. on August 17, 2005
My current kicking-around-in-the-back-of-my-head game is tentatively titled The Imp Of The Perverse. It’s based on the work of Edgar Allen Poe, as well as the ‘Gothic Earth’ of the TSR title The Masque Of The Red Death. I’m currentely rereading my collections of his short stories and poems, to figure out what elements I want to take from the text for the game. This post is basically retrievable brain-dump – comments are welcome, but not expected.
You have a sheet of paper. On one side of it is a letter with blanks, like a Mad Lib. Something along the lines of
It is with much sorrow that I must inform you _______. Unfortunately, ______. However, I do hold out hope that ________.
But enough of my empty prattle. Oh, if I could only _______! I must admit to you, my ______, that I have been mightily struggling for these last _______. I must rely on this excuse, and this alone, to explain my ________. I have seen Drs.— and — [not blanks, actually little dashes – genre appropriate], and they are in complete accordance that my malady has no natural cause. I am led to beleive, by my old associate __________, that it is not an unknown complication. My next communication may not be for quite some time, as I fear that I must address this with all haste. If I continue to suffer like I have, I must surely succumb to that madness that some phrenologists would term _______.
With all my love,
On the other side is the character sheet proper.
Now, thats pretty damn rough, but it gives an idea. Anyway, the blanks would correspond to mechanics stuff – people you care about, some background info, attributes and abilities of some kind, and your Perversity.
Most of Poe’s stories entail a man struggling against some kind of perverse compulsion, or some mental instability – the actual Imp of the Perverse showcases a man compelled to admit his perfect crime, The Telltale Heart is pretty much the same. In some cases they overcome their fear or problem, like the man who feared he would be buried alive, but snaps out of it once he comes dangerously close and goes on to live a fine life. Etc.
So, play is about the characters addressing their Perversitys and attempting to overcome them. Success and failure should be equally possible. In most cases, the character has to oversome a physical, external manifestation of their Perversity (like in Ms. In A Bottle). Here’s where we link with “traditional” roleplay & Masque of the Red Death. You cannot overcome your perversity until you confront the creatures, challenges and manifestations that exist, out there in the real world, and often in exotic and dangerous locales.
So play concerns following the characters as they travel the world, confronting monsters and danger in an effort to come to terms with their own internal demons.
I’m thinking card-based play would be genre-appropriate, but I’ve given little thought to actual mechanics thus far.
Problem: I want a “party” kind of game, but am having trouble seeing how that works within the literary framework. The parallel storyline style would work, but I don’t know how comfortable I am with that. So thats a problem. One thing I might steal is the Shadow from Wraith, and have each player be the actual Imp for a character not their own.
I want a pretty traditional GM/non-GM power split, but with mechanical guidelines for GM input.
I don’t know if I want magic or not. It’s not really in the literature, but the fantastic is, so…
I do want to write the entire book in the style of Poe (hehe, not ambitious at all), without breaking for mechanics explanation. Something like a narrator describing how to play, but in the language of the time…
“Let us take into consideration the personae of a Frenchman, Jaques deOiseau. The initial sketch we hold in our imagination is that of a brusque man, aquitted well with wide shoulders and a burly build, not unaccustomed to hard labor….But what for when poor Jaques wishes to undertake an adventure for which he is unsuited? Well, then he who holds Jaques in his imagination may wish to take advantage of the very strength of Jacques Imp of the Perverse, translating the power of that all-to-real entity into fuel for the fires of Jaques passion. He may draw an extra card…” etc
Which may suck. But may be cool.