Paper Talisman

One of the benefits of having awesome game designer friends is getting to meet their other awesome game designer friends. I met Rich Howard online via listening to his podcast, Whelmed: The Young Justice Files then interacting with him on Twitter. He’s a fantastic person all around, and we’re now half of the team working on Descent into Midnight.

At his birthday party, I ended up meeting J.M. Perkins, a game designer currently working on the fantastic Salt in Wounds campaign setting, which blew away its Kickstarter funding goals, raising eleven times its funding goal.

J.M. and I got to talking about our gaming projects, and I mentioned that my passion and experience, while spanning many different arts, crafts, and game styles, has centered mostly around origami since I was about five years old. I was bemoaning the fact that putting origami and gaming together was difficult, because of the restrictions it places on the players in terms of setup time (even simple models can take a few minutes to fold), skill set (not everyone knows how to fold more than a paper airplane), and complexity (if you’re going to use folding or unfolding as a resolution mechanic, you have a limited number of actions you can resolve before the paper simply begins to tear at the creases, or becomes so thick as to become unworkable).

Fast forward an hour or so. J.M. has come up with an amazing title “Paper Talisman” and the basic outline of an evocative setting that brings together a bunch of the ideas that had been floating around separately in my head. If you ever get the chance to hang out and talk with J.M., by all means do so. I’m pretty sure I sat there with my mouth hanging open for at least five minutes of the conversation, looking back and forth between him and Rich in awe at the way everything was coming together.

So… without further ado, here’s the beginnings of Paper Talisman. The bits in bold still need to be worked out, but you can clearly see the direction the game is going.

Paper Talisman

You are 13 years old. You are the among the brightest and the best of the survivors of the magical apocalypse. Today is the day you venture out into the wastes to gather the McGuffin. If you wait any longer, the potential will leave you as your body changes and you become an adult like the others. You have been prepared, but what will you sacrifice to bring back what is needed?

The game:

One person plays the GM, and will be the person responsible for presenting the players with challenges. Each other player will decide the mantra, secret, oath, hope, or bond you will imbue their Paper Talisman with. Write it down somewhere other than on the paper you will use to fold the model, or simply memorize it.

Fold an origami model (need to playtest various models for complexity). As you make each fold, whisper the mantra into your talisman.

Once the model is complete, it is your Paper Talisman. It represents your youth, your potential, and your journey toward adulthood. It also represents your ability to change the world around you.

As you progress through the adventure, you can sacrifice the integrity of your Paper Talisman to accomplish great things, or avoid great harm, but there is a price.

Minor feats require temporary sacrifice. To perform a minor feat, unfold a portion of the model. If you stop to recuperate and open up to one of your companions, and they open up to you, you can refold it to become whole again.

Major feats require permanent sacrifice. The GM will tell you how you must sacrifice a portion of your Paper Talisman. Dip it in ink, burn it, cut it, tear it, eat it, etc. This should be an irreversible harm done to your Paper Talisman. The degree and method of destruction should be indicative of what’s happening in the narrative if possible, practical, and safe.

You are a young teenager trained to face the dangers of the wastes. So are your companions. Most obstacles should be overcome by a minor feat. But there are many threats no one could truly be prepared for. These are the things that will require major feats to defeat.

Aside from the inherent dangers of a land ravaged by the magical apocalypse, there are The Lost. The Lost are the young people who went out, just like you, but never came back, twisted by the dark energies in the wastes before they could return. They are a fearsome enemy. But they are not the most fearsome creatures outside the village. Their broken and twisted Talismans are horrors beyond imagining, and wild stories are told of the forms they take.

If you make it back alive without the McGuffin, you have doomed yourself and your people to a slow death. If you make it back with the McGuffin, you have ensured the survival of your people for another year, but at what cost?