Friday, February 17, 2017

The Game is Born

Shocked! Shocked to find out that there's gambling going on here...!
For months I've been working with award-winning game designer James Ernest on a game for the sequel to The Seer. That is, a game that lives inside the story. James enjoys the challenge of creating in-world games.  He's done it before, bringing Tak to life from the pages of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicle.

Me, I didn't want to be trouble or nuthin', so I assured him I could just handwave the game a bit if need be. After all, I've played poker and even bridge, once. How hard could it be?

Ah, ignorance.

But I allowed as how it would indeed be exceptionally cool to have the help of someone of his caliber, if he were so inclined. Lucky for me, he was.

Fast forward to now, and people are actually playing this game that James and I made up together. (Now, when I say "made up together" what I really mean is, "James created with his astonishing depth of gaming knowledge, and let me join in.")

Rochi Beta Test, Cheapass Games
When we began all this, James asked me what I needed from the game. A gambling game, I said, one that could be affected by precognition. But not a clone of poker or bridge. Y'know, something different. Something new... that also seemed old. Really old. Like it grew up in the world of The Seer, over thousands of years, the way the standard 52-card deck did in our world.

We started with the structure. What is now called the Roche Deck has six suits of different counts, for a total of 54 cards. My job was to design the suits and all the cards. The resulting deck, we agreed, would be much like the Tarot's Major Arcana, but based in the world of The Seer.

That all sounded pretty straight forward until I started actually doing it. No getting around it: I'm the resident expert on the world of The Seer, so I figured that selecting 54 archetypes and deciding how each one should look in card form and what it meant -- how it connected to its suit and all the other cards -- would be... well. Not that hard, surely.

The best part about doing something you've never done before is that you have no idea how hard it is until you've said yes. That mountain of challenge shook me off, again and again, like a wet dog. As I did more research -- a common stuck-writer-trick -- I realized that the Tarot deck itself was far from flawless in its symbolism, that it was the result of historical accidents as well as a mash of cultural influences, and that our Roche Deck could -- and should -- seem just as organic and messy.

Thus was the game of Rochi born, atop the 54-card Roche Deck, along with some variants, including dice and coins which are still coming to life.

You probably knew this, but I didn't; it turns out that common poker terms are historical and whimsical and come from all over. So we likewise created a set of slang terms for Rochi.

I've played Rochi now a bunch of times now. With two people, with three, with six. It's fast and exciting, but it feels ancient and exotic. It feels like it comes from somewhere else.

Because it does.

I can confidently say that no matter how much card gaming, gambling, or James Ernest you've played, you've never played a game like this one before.

But now you can. The beta test version of the game -- along with the rule set and a brief in-world overview of Rochi's origins -- are right here, for your reading and playing pleasure. Free.

As an author, it's magical to see parts of my world come into this one. Rochi is an aspect of the intense world building that I put into my fiction. To hold the Rochi deck in my hands is to feel worlds touch.