Sunday, 3 May 2015

Morris mechanics

So I proposed (in all seriousness) a campaign called Morris based around Generic Patriotism, urban occultery and hitting things with sticks. Nobody has expressed the slightest bit of interest, which will in no way prevent me from going on about it (how very thematic).

I proposed using existing systems to play Morris, but let's pontificate about other options anyway.

There are a couple of main strands to the game as I see it. It's basically urban fantasy, after all. One side is therefore dealing with weirdness. The other side is getting on with life. These two frequently conflict: weirdness demands your attention at inconvenient times, while Real Life has a bucketload of emotional and practical demands that cause problems in tackling weirdness. Buffy Summers and every costumed superhero ever know this. You have to skip the school play to prevent the boundaries of reality from collapsing; you can't patrol the town borders because if you miss one more deadline you'll be out of a job; your family think you're either a worthless drunk or mixed up in gangs because you're always staggering home at 2am with fresh cuts and reeking of peculiar incense.

Broadly speaking, characters here need two "skillsets". I use the term advisedly, since it doesn't necessarily mean you need skills as such, or even anything. But characters need tools for interacting with weirdness, and tools for interacting with normality, and they may not be the same or even similar. From this point I'll use "The Morris" to mean anything associated with the mysteries and duties of the Morris, and "Normality" for everyday problems.

The Morris

So in the Morris, I forsee PCs doing things like:

  • Considering supernatural problems (some kind of evaluate-y knowledge-y skill)
  • Performing Morris dances and similar rituals to control supernatural balances, replenish wards, banish spirits and so on. Being the central theme of the game, I'd like this to actually get some game time, so it either wants to be a challenge with absolutely minimum input from skills but lots of roleplaying, or a whole series of planning, setup and execution rolls.
  • Hitting things with sticks. I mean, you're going to be doing that, come what may. But I think it should be different from Morris dancing itself. It's like the difference between waltz and jujitsu. In the dance, stick-wielding is part of a complex series of occult gestures and energy transfers. In a fight, it's bopping gremlins on the head with something heavy.
  • Dealing with spirits. The Morris have to treat with neutral entities, keep friendly ones onside, and confront hostile ones. I feel like this isn't either normal people skills (which might be relevant in normal life) or simple occultery. There's a mixture of knowing about spirits, reading auras, understanding how to address spirits, knowing what to offer, and sheer chutzpah. Spirits like rituals and rules, so a lot of this (like dealing with royalty) is about knowing or intuiting those.

There are nine Arts to the Morris, each representing one skill important in preserving the balance of occult power.

  • Witchery - knowledge and use of occult secrets
  • Whackery - the art of Morris stick-fighting
  • Jiggery - performance of ritual dance steps
  • Pokery - the ritual use of the stick, sword and handkerchief
  • Frippery - preparation, repair and use of ritual costume
  • Mummery - performance of ritual roles and sacraments
  • Mockery - the art of intimidating, browbeating and provoking spirits, and manipulating them through pride
  • Drollery - the art of entertaining and befriending spirits, and manipulating them through liking
  • Flattery - the art of placating and bargaining with spirits, and manipulating them through pity, vanity and obligation

Naturally, this game will require the creation of a ruleset for correctly performing dances, recovering from missteps, improvisation, and using these to produce the appropriate occult vibrations. I am not sure if any games already feature dance-simulation mechanics, and further research is needed here.


You might be the Bagman of the Hawarden Fops, Dabhand at Whackery, sixth needle of the Frips, on friendly terms with nine middling Powers and nodding to two bigguns, but you're also a junior quantity surveyor called Nigel with a semi in a slightly inconvenient part of town, a car whose oil light is perpetually flashing, two kids in apparently dire need of expensive xylophone lessons, a lot of birthdays to remember, and Henry VIII: France Detective isn't going to watch itself.

I'm actually inclined to say we don't use skills for this stuff. What it's mostly supposed to be is prompts to roleplay around, and sources of both obligation and help.

Let's try a set of prompts instead? These aren't going to be fixed mechanical things, they're to bounce ideas off. As such, you don't absolutely need to have all of them, but equally if you avoid coming up with anything you're making it hard to interact with about half of the game.

  • Occupation - what do you do with your time? Are you an unappreciated wage-slave, a happy but busy cake-shop assistant, a corner shop owner trying to fight off Tesco, an overworked lawyer, a vet whose practice regularly descends into chaos, a hotshot editor always on call, a struggling writer, a travelling salesman? Any retiree fit enough for the Morris is going to keep busy too. Pony sanctuaries, National Trust branches and art clubs don't run themselves.
  • Family and Friends - what personal obligations do you have? Kids need looking after but pick up all kinds of news. Partners need your time and attention but (hopefully) have your back. Elderly relatives may need visits and errands running. Housemates are a source of conflict, and sometimes fun. Old friends get married, get ill, visit unexpectedly, need a place to crash, want you to join their band.
  • Assets - what have you got? Possessions can be useful and problematic. A house needs rent or mortgage paying, housework and maintenance. Cars get you around, but need fuel and MOTs. Extensive wardrobes are great for looking dapper, costume parties and disguises, but they take up space and attract moths, and sometimes family insist on throwing them out. Mounds of books offer fun and research material, but cost money and take up space. Computers randomly malfunction.
  • Issues - what else have you got going on? Maybe you always wanted to write a book. Maybe you have health problems. Maybe you're engaged in constant campaigning against housing developments.
  • Hobbies - the Morris is what everyone considers your hobby to be, but it's serious business. You need to blow off steam. What else do you like to devote your time to? Hobbies can take time, money, energy and attention. Family disapprove of some and make others difficult. Some are great for ice-breaking, or just plain useful.

In theory, you could make an independently wealthy orphan who lives a minimalist life, does crosswords and doesn't really care about anything other than the Morris. This character is either asking for bankruptcy and a series of horrible diseases (because they haven't left anything else for the GM to interact with, after all) or needs to be thrown away as not fit for purpose.

On top of that, we probably want a generic Who You Are thing. My instinct is to just steal openly from Numenera here and make it Adjective Noun who Verbs, but the prompts above kind of have that covered. Maybe instead we just say three keywords, of which two should be positive and one should be mostly negative. So you might be, oh, Decisive, Well-Prepared and Stubborn, or maybe Affable, Painstaking and Disorganised.

Of course, you don't necessarily need to do this. If you wanted to run this in WoD, say, you could just use the existing generic attributes and skills for most of this stuff.


So how do these combine and interact to make a game? Umm... I'll think about that next time.

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