BOOK OF HOURS: Where Knowledge Goesfeatured

In true Weather Factory fashion, we announced our next game before we were even certain we were making it. We’re still not certain we’re making it. The Kickstarter we’re running for BOOK OF HOURS on the 3rd September? if that fails, then we’ll rethink and do something else, because it’ll show that there isn’t actually the appetite for a library game that we’d hoped.

But right now, we are exploring and experimenting, to see what’s possible and to confirm that the budget we have in mind will work for what we want to do. Hannah is prototyping:

Marc is building tools and frameworks so I can work a lot faster than in my original hashed-together bastard JSON spawn:

…and you’ll hear more from both of them later. But I’m working on the fiction, and on the game design.

What We Find Between The Covers

In BOOK OF HOURS, you’re a librarian. You’re a custodian of secret knowledge; you’re an oracle of the printed word; you’re the endpoint of the quest that scholars and seekers undertake.

So you’re knowledgeable in yourself, but you’re also surrounded – literally surrounded – by knowledge.

The library of Fernando Columbus, son of Christopher. Fernando tried to accumulate a copy of every book in the world, and didn’t do at all badly. What’s left of his collection resides in Seville Cathedral, between, I am informed, the Door of Forgiveness and the Door of the Lizard.

I want players to be able to grow and customise their character. I want a skill system. But skill systems were intended for characters who didn’t have constant access to a library. If you can hoover up all the knowledge in all the books in the library, why do you need to contain skills? If the books always outpace you, then what use are skills?

This was actually a really helpful driver for a key design insight. In most games, for perfectly good reasons, if books have a game effect at all, they’re a little packet of XP or skill points. You crack them open, drain them of points, maybe read a summary, and move on.

In BOOK OF HOURS, this won’t do at all. And in fact this isn’t the way that books in reference libraries, or even on your bookshelf, are used. You don’t drain them of knowledge and never consult them. You might need to reread them. You might need to consult them hundreds of times.

So we want books in HOURS to be more like NPCs – entities in the game that you have conversations with, that you return to, where your relationship and understanding changes over time. The party members, as it were, are the key texts that sit permanently on your desk for you to consult. The books that sit on far shelves are like shopkeepers or street-corner NPCs. Different interactions will get different kinds of knowledge out of different books.

NON-FINAL draft list of skills with NON-FINAL artwork

The left-hand column includes real and fictional languages. The right-hand column will be familiar to any Cultist Simulator player: the many branches of the ‘invisible arts’, the closest thing to magic in the Secret Histories universe. I want to talk briefly about some of the skills in the middle column. (I also want to thank Matt Hosty, who took some of the draft names I’d put together from Google Translate and half-remembered linguist’s Greek, and suggested more coherent alternatives.) Look away now if you don’t want spoilers.

Horticulture is particularly important for a librarian in a place like Hush House, who may need to mix inks, antidotes and poisons from plants. Long Times is the gossipy topic of the histories and rivalries of the Long, the setting’s immortals. Daimonography, as you might expect, is knowledge of non-mundane entities, and their strengths and weaknesses. Horomachistry is the study of the Hours, the secret gods of the world, and their endless struggles.

Nyctodromy, literally ‘travelling at night’, is the knowledge of the architecture and geography of the Mansus, the Bounds and other unseen realms, including the routes in and out. Bookbinding is the most evocative catch-all term for several techniques of preservation, alteration and creation. Decontamination allows the safe removal of dirt, disease and taint – whether physical, theoplasmic or skolekosophic. Erudition is a catch-all term for ‘occult or otherwise interesting knowledge’, cos we always end up needing one of those generic labels in skill systems.

(Skolekosophy is a forbidden topic. Hush House probably has no books on that matter at all.)

What We Forget

So a library visitor wants to know how to reach the Museum of Worms in dreams. Do you use your Nyctodromy skill, or the big old book on nyctodromy sitting on the shelf behind you? Here, provisionally is how it’s going to work.

Image result for grimoire

You can have Skill cards, rated from 1 to 7, which represent your understanding of the subject, and stay permanently available. And you also have Knowledge cards, rated from 1 to 7, which you get by consulting a book… which fade over time. So if you know your nyctodromy properly, you can just answer your visitor, but if you need to hit the books, you can recall or explore which book contains the information you need – then retrieve it – and then share it with your visitor. Or if you like, you can just lend them the book. You usually wouldn’t or shouldn’t do that. But some visitors will be very insistent, or pay very well.

You increase your Skill by feeding it Knowledge of the appropriate level – you need two Knowledge: Nyctodromy 3 cards to increase your Skill: Nyctodromy from 2 to 3. This is a pretty standard RPG mechanism, which works to keep the economy interestingly scarce and to model, roughly, the way real-world knowledge looks. But there’s a problem for us. If you can keep reading the same book and keep generating Knowledge cards, can’t you just spam enough Knowledge to increase your Skill as soon as you have a book of the appropriate level?

So here’s how I think it’ll work: each level of Knowledge has three different cards, and you need two of them to increase to the next level. There’s a Nyctodromy 3: Nightways, a Nyctodromy 3: Other Doors and a Nyctodromy 3: Moon’s Key card, for instance. Any of them will satisfy a library visitor looking for information. But if you want to increase your skill, you need to widen your reading, and find at least two different cards. This gives you a reason to broaden your collection, and an immediate set of tiny quest-like objectives.

(Why three different cards, not two? so there are multiple ways through, and you don’t get so easily get ten left-hand cards and no damn right-hand cards. These aren’t final numbers, of course, and everything may change after spreadsheets and playtesting. I want to find the sweet spot between excitement and frustration.)

If you’re still reading – and if you’re not, I’ve already forgiven you, I do worry this stuff is for quite specialist tastes – then you should probably hit the button below to get on our mailing list…

…and next time, I’ll talk about not just about Knowledge and Skills but also about Thoughts and Beliefs, and how in BOOK OF HOURS you can make and shape them.

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