What Ho World Design Diary 1: The Basics

We’re big fans of the whimsical, free-wheeling chaos of books like P. G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves stories, Fred and Ginger films like Top Hat and The Gay Divorcee and similar works, so after I’d finished putting together Legacy I thought it’d be a nice change – not to mention a challenge – to build a game that tried to evoke that feel.

We started with a simple idea – a hybrid of the one-session improvised chaos of Jacob Morningstar’s Fiasco, coupled with the playbook and move framework of Vincent Baker’s Apocalypse World. Building from that, we set these goals for the system:

  • Flavourful but flexible character archetypes.
  • Mechanics that are consistent with the source material.
  • Simple and streamlined set up and play.
  • Good pacing and spotlight distribution without needing a GM.

The forth one’s probably going to be the hardest, but each present their own challenges. I’ll begin these diaries with our ideas for the first and most important one: interesting character archetypes consistent with the source material.

Characters

From the idiotic but endlessly optimistic Bertie Wooster to the relentlessly cheerful but ruthlessly ambitious Elizabeth Mapp the characters in the source material are active,  eccentric in their strengths and heedless of their weaknesses. There are other similarities – none of them reject the dance of society completely, violence is limited to threats and the occasional coshings, and overly grand ambitions (like the fascist dreams of Roderick Spode) are roundly mocked.

The first step in working out how characters are made in a game like this is to work out the main archetypes characters fall into, and the basic actions they all tend to perform. After a lot of enjoyable hours of watching, reading and listening, we came up with these archetypes:

The Gentleman or Lady of Leisure

A social butterfly very much at home in the galas and clubs of high society but utterly naive about anything else, the gentleman or lady of leisure is constantly in motion – getting engaged and breaking it off, showing impeccable etiquette and then flouting conventions, they can cope with pretty much anything so long as nobody pins them down and pens them in.

A little note on gender – we’re not making a game where your character’s gender is any more important than you want it to be. In the best of the source material, gender discrimination isn’t a factor – Bertie Wooster and Stephanie ‘Stiffy’ Byng are equally free to do whatever they like with whoever they like, and Aunt Agatha and Sir Watkyn Basset have a similar level of social power. A character’s capabilities in this game come from their playbook rather than their gender, and while that’s made the names of this playbook and the next one a little clunky we think it’s the best call. 

The Gentleman’s Gentleman or Lady’s Lady

Where the Gentleman/Lady of Leisure is mercurial the Gentleman’s Gentleman or Lady’s Lady is solid and dependable, always ready to offer sage advice, a bracing drink, or surprising skills from their time in the forces. Even when they’re unavailable to assist their master, it’s only because a more urgent or important errand has taken up their attention.

The Aged Relative

Their years have given the Aged Relative a healthy disregard for society’s mores, as well as the status needed to get away with it. Whether they’re foisting an inconvenient duty onto their nephew, throwing a grand gala to embarrass their social rivals, or demonstrating stealth and blackjacking skills that rival the best footpad, they’re an indomitable juggernaut of a force.

The Highbrow

Whether they’re an artist, a priest or a scholar, the Highbrow has been given a license by society to ignore social conventions, think strange thoughts and create shocking works – so long as they don’t go too far. Their moves play into this duality, whether it’s through being so oblivious you’re impervious to social influence and knowing the most obscure, strangely useful facts, or cannily putting together work whose ideas are just shocking enough to spread through the chattering classes like wildfire.

The Pillar of Society

The Pillar of Society is a key figure of the establishment – a judge, a major, a minor royal or the chair of the local Women’s Institute. Their word carries weight, and their judgement is feared by all, but their doctrinal mindset leaves them open to crafty plots and fast talk. Further, the organisation that is the source of their power can demand the Pillar’s attention at inconvenient times.

Next up: The basic mechanics and moves

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