Applying open source to gaming

I had an idea the other night that has stuck and won’t go away.  It’s a concept for a role playing game called The Long Con. It’s based, in part, on the BBC TV series Hustle, which is about a team of grifters who practice “the long con.”  Unlike short cons, your standard street cons, or African Prince email cons, or other internet cons, long cons are elaborate, tailored to the mark’s weaknesses, and generally involve multiple parts and players.

So the basic premise of the role playing game is that you’ll be a con artist and the skills you pick will sort of determine your specialty.  But because we don’t often have the opportunity to play stuff like this for other people, I had the thought that we could throw in a twist, and make it possible to play without a GM.  In that case, you’d need to use modules, which are essentially add-on packs filled with characters and stats.  You would roll for finding your mark, and your roll would determine which mark in the module you wound up with.  Based on the information you can gather about the mark, you would need to come up with an appropriate con and your success or failure would depend on how well you were able to read the mark.  So, it would be a little bit like choose-your-own-adventure, and a little bit like Clue, and a little bit like those old Dungeons & Dragons adventure packs.

The other thing that’s cool about the game concept, I think, is that cons aren’t specific to a particular time or place, so there’d be room for expansion packs which could add specific environments, say the Western United States in the 1800s (before the states were established), or Nazi Germany, or the future.  Whatever.  Expansion packs would have information on the setting and include modules with marks specific to that environment.

Expansion packs and modules wouldn’t be exclusive to solo- or GM-less play, either — a GM could use the supplemental material in their ongoing campaign, or solo players could play solitaire with the prefabricated characters and settings.  Obviously it would be more fun the more players you had involved, but my idea is that you could do it with as few as two players or even by yourself.  I want the system to have as much in common with a CCG as with a standard RPG.

Since I’ve been thinking a lot about the GPL for Museum Themes and, most recently, about that Thesis thing, and since this project has a scope that is much larger than I could conceivably build by myself in my limited free time, I had the idea of making the game open source — building a website (probably a Wiki) that allowed for collaborative contributions in the areas that need developing.  My thought was that rather than playtesting like: “here’s my game, now I’m going to run it,” I wanted to be able to say “here’s my game, now you run it” and be able to remain somewhat outside and let the problems arise organically and addressed based on other players’ experience rather than cobbled together on the fly.

I figured that I probably wasn’t the first person to think of this, but I wasn’t aware that there was an Open Gaming License, nor that Wizards of the Coast adopted it for 3.0 of Dungeons and Dragons (though it makes a lot of sense — I wondered how the d20 system derivatives could exist without copyright infringement: answer, they’re based on D&D 3.0 (or later), which was released under the OGL).  I’m not sure that I will end up releasing the game under the OGL as opposed to a Creative Commons or GPL license, but it’s good to know that there’s already an existing community of open games that I could dive into and potentially get some contributors.  I’ll be looking at the terms of different licenses and see which fits best.  I’m tentatively leaning toward just GPL’ing everything I do, including music, from now on as a sort of statement, but I want to consider all the options individually to see what the best option really is.

Anyway, that’s my new project.  So far I have approximately none of the above completed, just some very rudimentary rules (it’s d10-based) and skills.  And if you care to know, this all came out of e trying to play a con artist in another RPG and then both of us subsequently realizing that to really play a con in an RPG it would require a whole lot more finesse and a range of skills that wasn’t really allowed for in the rules.  You’d sort of have to have the GM be in on it, or at least meet you halfway, and if that’s not the case, then the only other option would be actually conning your friends which may or may not go over so well.


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