Orthodoxy – the Politics of Reconstruction
A pen-and-paper RPG designed and written by my friend, Jordan Voltz (Blog, Facebook, Twitter). The rulebook and at least one example setting are currently in the works, but the core structure of the game is already in place. The Kickstarter Project, which ends June 19th, 2014 @ 10:35 AM PDT, is – hopefully – going to raise the funds to complete the system, write the rulebook, publish it (both as a PDF and a soft-cover print edition), and even get some great art included! In the interest of full disclosure (and because it’s such an obvious opportunity for shameless bragging), I’ll be doing all the art. Unless, of course, we get so much interest we need to bring in some help, although I admit – I hope I’ll be able to handle all of the art, illustrations, and design myself. This game – perhaps “system” would better describe it, as it’s not limited to a particular genre or even time-period – is something I’ve really enjoyed helping with.
Basics of the System
Now, as I’m not actually writing the system or rules myself, much of what I know about the game was explained to me by Jordan. While we were putting together the audio for the video, incidentally, so we went over the concept and general system quite a few times. Essentially, at its core, the system is designed to literally force the players to collaborate even while attempting to dominate. The setting used to showcase the system is essentially a Roman-era city that has fallen into decay. Originally ruled by a central government built around and upon a central religion, various Sects have broken away and are now fighting for both religious and political power. In an effort to prevent the city from being torn apart by rebellion, and with the hopes of maintaining at least some of its fading power, the central government has chosen a representative to bring the leaders of the dominate sects together. Together, this representative – the Scribe, played by the GM – and the players, as Sect Leaders, must work together to write a document that will bring the Sects together and restore the city.
Stages of Play
Both the Sect Leaders and the Scribe want this document to reflect primarily their own interests, however, so despite the required collaboration plenty of blackmail, bribery, intrigue, lying, and other forms of manipulation are equally effective means of completing the document. There are essentially two major stages of play, alternating until each Sect Leader has proposed and written a chapter of the document. The first stage is the Debate, in which a Sect Leader proposes a chapter and attempts to garner support from the other Leaders and the Scribe. Once the proposal is completed and support given (or withheld), the chapter itself is written. The Scribe records while the Sect Leader who proposed the chapter dictates. Other Leaders can interrupt the dictation to make changes or argue a point. After this stage is completed, the second stage begins. Now, all the players, including the GM, step away from the document in order to bribe, blackmail, lie to, and otherwise manipulate their temporary-collaborators into promising support when it becomes their turn to propose a chapter.
These two stages, which I like to call “Debate” and “Manipulate” (respectively), alternate until each player has had the chance to propose and write a chapter of the document. The group may choose to write only one chapter per person, or they may choose to write any number of chapters per person, even writing more than one Book (document) to create a Canon. The length of each chapter and of the whole document is entirely up to the players, allowing the game to be completed in a single session or across multiple sessions, even spanning several months!
I have to say, my favorite feature is the incredibly flexible nature of the system. While the system is described in terms of writing a religious document that will dictate and support a new government for a decaying city in danger of falling apart, this is hardly the only setting in which it can be used. In addition, writing a document, book, or canon – whether detailing religious or political power – is not the only outcome the system can create! Players could be computer programmers vying to rewrite a powerful but outdated software using their own system, or they could even, potentially, be architects vying to build a structure using their own materials or methods. Or to at least have the most input during the drafting process 🙂
While the focus is on collaboration between otherwise antagonistic parties, there’s still plenty of room for manipulation and fighting. Politics, law, and even coding have never been “clean” and there’s always room for a little manipulation, even during a collaboration that could cost an entire city its very survival should the effort fall apart!