I introduced and discussed the concept of Pheonix Bound earlier. Now on to the subsystems.

Pheonix Bound has three major subsystems:

  • Collaborative creation of characters (including antagonists)
  • Semi-random situation generation
  • Blind-bidding task resolution using a fixed set of cards

The collaborative creation of characters works by listing categories for each body and enemy on index cards and then passing them around in a circle to fill out one answer at a time. This sort of approach is pretty popular at present for collaborative setting creation, but could benefit from a bit more guidance to spur creativity. If that guidance can also be a random table to act as an extra player, so much the better.

The situation generation is done by having the players decided what mundane task their phoenix is doing and (in classic maho shoujo style it appears) the GM randomly determines if today an enemy will appear and if so, which enemy. This harkens back to random encounters in D&D, but its important to note that random encounters work because they exist in the context of progress (typically travel). As I noted earlier, this game needs a goal for the phoenix in protecting her charge. This is one of the most important reasons – if the enemies don’t attack some sort of progress needs to be made to counter-point the danger. Otherwise there is really no tension in whether there is an attack or not, only marking time until it occurs.

The last, and arguably most unique, subsystem is the blind-bidding task resolution. This is done by playing a card from a small hand initially containing the numbers 2 through 10 (one hand for the GM and one for each player). I originally disliked this mechanic much more, but considering how the random situation draws also come from the GMs deck – and hence help to balance a large number of enemy occurrences by eating up high cards or conversely a period of quiet causing a reduced number of low cards. Likewise, the need for players to take some losses to clear the bad cards in their hand in order to redraw a new hand is also potentially interesting. The problem is there is only one mechanical consequence for the lower bid, other than the task failing, at least immediately – if your opponent doubles your bid you can be killed. This is too much, if you play your two you are already almost certainly going to lose, but now you are also almost certainly going to die – unless you weasel it into a non-lethal task situation. Instead there should be concessions or other impacts of failing your side of a task and those could lead to defeat or death, of you or your charge, but it shouldn’t depend on the amount you lose by. One possibility that comes to mind is a first to three wins, where the phoenix and the enemy can have a few setbacks before losing their goal for the day. In any case, this means wrapping this task mechanic into a wider conflict mechanic to determine the outcome of the enemy’s assault.

In my next feedback burst I’m going to talk about development tools which may help Phoenix Bound and some of the ways things can be tested with and without playtesting.

I’m trying to get back to the Longest Game participants, but its likely to be slow going at this point. Today I’m starting with Phoenix Bound by Samuel Purdy.

Phoenix Bound is a game where the players are phoenixes reborn into recently deceased bodies to protect something that person cared deeply for during life. Arrayed against the phoenixes are forces of the Shadowlands. When a phoenix is pushed against the ropes they can tap fully into their mystical powers, but begin to burn through their body. When they leave their body they emerge as full phoenix for a short while before passing to a different recently deceased body.

To my mind this expresses the root of what is compelling about phoenix bound. On one hand a phoenix is reborn and is called to do so by tapping into her spiritual might. On the other she is compelled to protect, and perhaps do even more, her body’s most cherished person, place or thing. But this whole situation becomes less compelling if the only reason the charge needs the phoenix’s help is because the phoenix is there in the first place and is attracting the forces of the shadowlands.

One of the important parts about long form games is that the players get the chance to change the world. This is not just creative collaboration of what the world is, but through effort, cunning, and sacrifice coming leaving the world different in ways that re-emerge in the future. In that vein, I suspect what Phoenix Bound needs is to heighten the responsibility of the phoenixes, not just to protect someone or something, but to complete an unfinished goal or enable a personal transformation during the short span the phoenix gets to persist in the body. This would mean that a player can look at each cycle and see what was accomplished and what fell short. And the consequences of these outcomes are then available to be reincorporated in future collaborative creations of lives, enemies, and situations.

In my next feedback burst, I’ll be delving into some of the sub-systems in Phoenix Bound: collaborative setting creation, random situation creation, and the blind bidding.