Kevin looked at my work, an ashcan of a story game about Renaissance Game of Thrones, and then to me, his eyes sympathetic but unyielding.
“B-but, I need every part! Each rule is so beautiful!” I cried. How could he criticise my work so? How could he not appreciate the elegance of 15 interlocking mechanics and the resultant story they would no doubt produce?
“Looks like a mess, mate” he replied, placing a paternal hand upon my shoulder. “Like you vomited alphabet spaghetti on a Pollock painting”
Of course, in real life, Kevin was far more diplomatic and I was even more melodramatic and passionate (perhaps being in character?) But Marquis of Ferrara was made anyway, somewhat trimmed on the advice of him and others, with say 4 or 5 mechanics remaining.
Anyway, I played it again recently, and it was fantastic, but it was still a little too much. It appears in the intervening years that I’ve matured! Let’s take a look and figure out what to cut. If you wanna follow along, can always download the sheets from the Marquis page.
Marquis is quite a free-wheeling game, it doesn’t need the strict scene economy like Witch and Montsegur to pace the story. Rules as written, there should be two Grand scenes per Act (where everyone is present) and one Intimate scene per player (with 2 players present).
In our game, the Pope’s visit in Act 2 spiralled into a huge Grand scene with many asides and lots of dramatic irony, with Isabella using wine and wiles to secure a political marriage to formerly exiled Fiore d’Este, even while his pious brother Marco falls in love with her under the Pope’s rheumy eyes. Another Grand scene would’ve been anticlimactic at best.
So consider that an official amendment, so write it in the margins: Have as many or as few scenes as you like per Act, but 1 or 2 Grand scenes are recommended.
Duels (adapted from Mist Robed Gate) remain my favourite conflict resolution mechanic, they’re not just for physical conflict, but basically any kind. In our game, most of the duels were simple arguments, though we did have an assassination attempt too.
Duellists describe the duel freely, while the audience (every other player) votes for their favoured side. One random vote drawn from the bag determines the winner.
This really plays up the performance-side of things; everyone gets more florid and creative when the other players are actively judging them (not just passively judging them as I assume everyone normally does). Since the duel lasts as long as the audience remains undecided, I find it leads to quite punchy and quick conflicts too.
No changes here.
These (I first saw them in Love in the Time of Seid) function as the narration management. Basically, they can be reduced to phrases such as “talk more”, “shut up”, “how about this cool detail…?” and “WTF?”. Except, ya know, in Marquis I called ’em “Di grazia, what is all this?” etc.
There’s something to be said for giving players explicit permission to influence narration even in scenes where their character is not present. However, in our game, I was the one who used them most. Everyone still added things, but the phrases themselves were somewhat needless.
I’d make these optional nowadays, I think. Including in other games that use them.
“How do I intimidate others?” This is not “I’m intimidating” and nor is it “I have a troubled past” or similar, but implies all of that and more.
A well-worded question provide a skeleton of character backstory and personality, while explicitly pointing to gaps to fill in during play.
An elegant staple of story game design, these really are the driving force of character interaction in many games, with the very focus of scenes being the opportunity to explore and show the answer to a question.
Not so much in Marquis. There’s already enough going on with the Promises. Everyone dutifully fills in the details to add colour, but it doesn’t always end up relevant. I’d maybe keep one or two and just put them underneath the Characteristic’s section.
“For the mad Duke of Milan, I will betray Ferrara!”
I love these. They’re just written records of intent: “For X, I will do Y”, where X is a virtue, vice or person or whatever, and Y is an action that can conceivably be accomplished. They provide a small bonus in duels (basically, if invoked in a duel, a duellist can vote for themselves), but otherwise they are just colour. They can be ignored or broken at will and there is no benefit to fulfilling them.
So why have them? Because it’s just very powerful to spend some time to write something down, and have it as a constant reminder from then on. The main consequence of a duel is for the winner to dictate a Promise to the loser: “For honour, you will never harm me nor my family again”. Even if you cross that Promise out and murder them all, it’ll still be there as a reminder of your shame.
A number of story games I love have character sheets that you don’t write on or change in any way. This makes sense (recyclable sheets if nothing else!), but I do love the power of defacing something forever.
… I have very small dreams for a megalomaniac. I’ll keep this.
TL;DR: Make Scenes more flexible, reduce Interjections and Questions, but keep Promises and Duels as is.
If anyone else has any feedback, I’ll put the ideas together and update the sheets.