So you did ask for ideas right?
I was also part of the Doomtown game both yesiroleplay and Ciosa mention and it was awesome. Part of that was simply the group of people involved but below I hope to set out my (long, slightly technical and very pretentious) thoughts on why the setting and the game itself really
1) A sandbox game with arcs.
Just to be pedantic and spell out the difference, an arc based game is one where someone, normally the GM, basically tells the participants both IC and OOC that "we're doing this" and they then go off an do it before then being given a different goal, going off and doing that etc etc. A game where all the participants are members of a team, get given a mission, do the mission and then get given another is probably the most obvious example. A sandbox type game is one where the GM simply creates the world and then leaves the participants free to do what they want in it; they can create their own arcs, simply hang around, form their own groups and their own alliances.
Doomtown combined the two. On the whole it was a sandbox with each character able to do what they wanted without a vast amount of direction but there were a number of GM induced plots/arcs that hung over it and coloured what was happening, be it the shooting of the sheriff right at the start of the game (which gave us a "find the murderer" arc and a "who will be elected sheriff?" arc) to the sudden appearance of supernatural horror which happened just before the game ground to a halt.Why it worked
Because characters weren't shoe-horned into a grouping that wasn't necessarily a good fit for them and had freedom to do what they wanted. My character's ambitions were fairly mundane... depending on what hour of the day you caught him at it was either drink whiskey, find a prostitute, get in a fight or hunt down a maze dragon
. But what happens when you combine that with another character who has inherited a claim to a mine? Or one who wants to become the "Queen Bee" of Doomtown? Or a corrupt and ruthless saloon owner? Organic story-telling simply happens without the GM having to constantly provide threats and ideas.
But the inclusion of arcs also helped. One problem with sandbox games is that little groupings happen and each group then goes about their lives rarely interacting or impacting on what the others did. Having some arcs running along made characters come together and gave them all at least one point of reference.
2) The setting in general.
Doomtown was pretty self-evidentially set in the Weird West and the Weird West is a great setting because it offers so much freedom. To begin with at least Doomtown actually minimised the "wierd" aspects of the setting and with the exception of some mad scientist steam punk elements could easily have been seen as a alt-history take on the Wild West. The wierder elements were starting to sneak their way in by the end of the game but unfortunately we never quite got the chance to really explore them.Why it worked
Because there are so many story opportunities. Even ignoring the whole "wierd" thing you have dozens of different tales to tell in a western setting; corrupt saloon owners vs upstanding citizens, corporate interests moving in on freedom loving cowboys, Indian raids, the racial issues between the various immigrant communities, the lone badass hunting down the outlaws who killed his family, the gold rush and people fighting for claims, intruige and backstabbing among the ladies in each town etc etc. Then when you throw in the "wierd" elements, be it maze dragons, demons, sinister magic loving old families, a crazy priest... it all adds up. There are so many stories to tell... and so much pop culture to "liberate" them from... that *touch wood* everyone's muse should be ticking over both for stories and characters.
3) The setting specifically.
Again to be pretty self-evident, Doomtown was set in Doomtown/Gomorra, an existing location in the Deadland's canon and one that became the basis for a collectible card game. I know Google may not want to simply retread old ground but I think there are some key advantages in doing so.
Why it worked
Because it gave us a living, breathing setting from the off. One of the issues of a sandbox game is that while (on paper at least) it is less effort for GM once it's set up it's a lot to effort for a GM to
set up. You have to create a world, create NPC's, create locations, create a history etc etc. Setting it in Doomtown took most of that effort away. There was a history built in... not just of the world but also of the town itself. There were a number of high powered characters (be they player controlled, NPC's who made frequent appearances or simply names to mention) already in place, as were saloons, restaurants, shops, accomodation etc etc. While the players helped flesh it out the setting never felt like it appeared at the same time as our characters... it seemed to predate them and be able to survive without them.
4) The OOC relationship between players.
Now, this isn't something one can necessarily control... how the players interact with each other OOC isn't something that can be made to happen. But Doomtown created some pretty strong OOC bonds which in turn made the IC interaction better.Why it worked
There's no magic bullet here but there were several little things. Personally I liked the idea of "bounty"; each month (real time) the players voted for who they thought had been the best roleplayers over the proceeding month and a "wanted" poster
was made for the top two commemorating it. This never became overly competitive but it did bring us closer together. Combined with an active OOC thread in general it made the entire experience a joy to play.
5) System-lite (with an emphasis on light
Doomtown was officially a system-lite game although I never rolled a dice or really had to consult the character sheet I'd knocked up when playing. Perhaps I'd have had to do more if PVP combat had ever kicked in but we never quite came to that. What I did have to do was knock up a character sheet and balance out what my character was good at against what he was bad at.
Why it worked
Because it really
made my character focus on who he was and what he could do. The tendency when creating completely free-form characters is to create ones with a certain amount of "competency creep"; they'll have a few things they're excellent
at, a few weaknesses but on the whole they become competent at pretty much everything. Having to deal with stat points prevents that because you really have to focus and what skills your character may have (as well as pointing out what skills someone in the Weird West may have). My English hoodlum could be a great hand to hand fighter, physically strong, intimidating and with an intricate knowledge of the inner-workings of London's gangs... but he couldn't also be a great shot, an excellent thief, speak a couple of languages, be able to read and write fluently, ride a horse well, track people down, disguise himself, create things, tell tale tales etc etc. I never felt hampered by this and I took the general view that I had my character in mind and I'd fudge the stats to make him rather than have the stats and fudge the character but it did keep me focused on the idea that may character would have distinct strengths and weaknesses and that I couldn't hand wave additional skills in whenever I needed to.
So, where does that leave us?
I should stress that despite the frequent references to it and the fact that I just wrote about how it worked, I'm not simply trying to rehash Doomtown here. Doomtown was brilliant but it had its time and its place and its gone now. If a new game does come it will stand on its own merits and be its own game.
That said, here's Consortium11's (hopefully helpful) quick guide to setting up a game in the Weird West that should *touch wood* work.
1) A sandbox in one primary location, hopefully largely fleshed out before the game begins (which makes Deadlands/Doomtown a great starting point but doesn't necessarily mean it has to be that one.)
2) Within that sandbox a number of GM presented arcs to give characters direction if needed. One to kick the game off and give all the characters something to talk about/do be it a murder, bank robbery, explosion, Indian raid, kidnapping, demonic appearance etc etc. A few more lined up to drop on players if needed and add some more direction/drama.
3) Large amount of freedom as to the type of characters needed; there's no real "roles" to be fulfilled in a sandbox game so anyone can come up with pretty much everything be it an displaced cockney, a spoil brat, an ice-cold vengeful killer, an upstanding deputy, a mad scientist etc etc.
4) A detailed character creation process that even if it doesn't need stat points really
makes people think about who their character is and what they can do.
5) Something to tie the OOC community together, be it somethin akin to the bounty mentioned earlier, something different or even just an active OOC thread.
6) NPC's. Lots of NPC's. They could all be created and handled by the GM but that's a lot of work and might instead be best placed in the players (or even just certain players) hands. More NPC's = a more believable world = more interaction = more story arcs = a better sandbox which hopefully = a better world.
Does any of that help?
Walter Sinnett was such a wonderful badass
I do somewhat miss him, it must be said