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A diceless, GMless tabletop story game for 2-5 players, using only 18 poker-sized cards.
108 backers pledged $1,050 to help bring this project to life.

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$1,050

108

You and your companions are members of the Gate Watch—charged to keep an eye on the border between realms. Who built the gate? What is on the other side? Why are you watching? What are you guarding against? These are the questions you will answer as you explore the mystery of the Gate. Every game session is different, every world, every Gate unique.

Gate Watch is a creative tabletop storytelling game for 2-5 players, where player interactions take the mystery of the Gate to dramatic resolution. It is diceless and GMless and uses 18 poker-sized cards, with rules on front and inspirational images on back. You will also need two sheets of paper, some index cards and some markers. Typical play time is about 2-3 hours.

Overview of Play

Players first choose the Gate for this game, optionally selecting or drawing one from the 18 images on the back of the cards. Reading through the cards, they together create a Map and describe Locations, establish Truths & Mysteries, and ask key Questions of fellow Watchers. Hook cards help players set key goals for Acts 1 and 2, then take turns setting Scenes that drive the story forward. Resolution cards increase tension or resolve complications until a clue reveals one of the Gate's Mysteries in Act 3.

Gate Watch inspires players to be creative, supporting a nearly infinite variety of potential stories. Thus far in play-testing, the Gate collaboratively selected by players resides in a wide variety of settings & genres:

  • in a classics fantasy, with the gate lying between the real-world and the Greek heaven & hell, and Watchers possibly hired by Charon;
  • in a 1950's noir mystery, featuring the gate between a Hollywood producer's mansion and the hardscrabble blue-collar world of post-war Los Angeles;
  • in a sci-fi adventure, where a collapsing underground mutant civilization has a hidden exit to a post-apocalyptic landscape;
  • and in a dark fantasy, where a water well located in a German farming village at the end of WWII leads into the perilous lands of the fae, but may be the only escape from invading Russians.

We've found the mechanics of Gate Watch work well for experienced gamers as well as those who are completely new to collaborative story games. From improv actors to experienced role players, a wide range of people have found the instructions and mechanisms easy to understand and fun to play. The resulting stories were imaginative, the settings and genres intriguing, the play dynamic, and most importantly, all had a satisfying ending in just a couple of hours of play. A fun evening entertainment.

Reviewer Quotes

“You wouldn't think a whole three-act story game could fit in 18 playing cards, but Gate Watch cleverly mixes a combination of well-honed story prompts, act-specific scene frames, and a story hook brimming with potential, focusing on just what's needed to improvise compelling fiction.” — Aaron A. Reed, author of the Archives of the Sky story game.

Gate Watch is an intriguing, distilled world-crafting, story-telling, and role-playing experience in the guise of a simple game. I wouldn't be surprised if some of the principles it is based on are used in basic literary, plot-writing or directing courses. Involve everybody around the table and collaboratively set the background through a pool of questions. Create exciting scenes involving both the background and the participating characters with nothing but narration. Dice? Nah, too random. Cards? Yes, but only a handful. Rules? Less than a single page. Duration? As long as you wish. Fun? Loads! The game can explore any setting and genre you want it to, with everybody simultaneously starring and directing. Veteran gamer? Hardcore role-player? Total newbie? It doesn't matter. All you need is a vivid imagination.”Antonios S, RPG.net Reviewer & Columnist

Inspirational Quotes

“The world is all gates, all opportunities, strings of tension waiting to be struck.”  — Ralph Waldo Emerson 

“Yog-Sothoth knows the gate. Yog-Sothoth is the gate. Yog-Sothoth is the key and guardian of the gate. Past, present, future, all are one in Yog-Sothoth.”  — H. P. Lovecraft

“My paintings always feature trails that dissolve into mysterious areas, patches of light that lead the eye around corners, pathways, open gates, etc.”  — Thomas Kinkade

“The enemy is within the gates; it is with our own luxury, our own folly, our own criminality that we have to contend.”  — Marcus Tullius Cicero

“Still round the corner there may wait, A new road or a secret gate.”  — J. R. R. Tolkien

“It is easy to go down into Hell; night and day, the gates of dark Death stand wide; but to climb back again, to retrace one's steps to the upper air - there's the rub, the task.”  — Virgil

“Near the gates and within two cities there will be scourges the like of which was never seen: famine within plague, people put out by steel, crying to the great immortal God for relief.”  —  Nostradomus

Peter Venkman: ‘She says she's the Gatekeeper. Does that make sense to you?’ Egon Spengler: ‘Some. I'm with the Keymaster now.’ Peter Venkman: ‘Oh, we have to get these two together.’"Ghostbusters by Dan Aykroyd & Harold Ramis

“We did not choose to be the guardians of the gate, but there is no one else.”  — Lyndon B. Johnson

Quickstarter

Though I have been involved with a number of successful Kickstarter projects, this is the first that I am running under my own own name. I love the creative power of constraints, so I am attempting to do this as a Quickstarter, a Kickstarter initiative that embraces the following ethos:

  • Quickstarter is about thinking small and simple.
  • Quickstarter is keeping it fun & "Do It Yourself".
  • Quickstarter doesn't take over your life and is not a job.

To this end, I am following these rules:

  • Plan it in three months or less.
  • Campaign for less than 20 days.
  • Funding goal under $1,000.
  • Rewards under $50.
  • A short & sweet video or none at all.
  • No PR or media outreach (unless contacted).
  • No paid ads on social media. 
  • No stretch goals.
  • Ship quickly.
  • Include "Quickstarter" in the campaign name.

Keeping the Price Low, the Shipping Simple

Also in the spirit of Quickstarter, this game consists of just the 18 poker-sized cards. There is no box: instead our printer, DriveThruRPG, wraps the 18 cards in a transparent band. This allows us to offer the printed cards for our US customers for only $12. Less than the cost of a movie!

However, if you're somewhere outside the US, handling shipping through Kickstarter gets complex. For these backers, I'm using a service provided by my printer that lets you handle shipping yourself after the campaign ends. Your pledge is a partial payment that gets you a code to order the book from them At-Cost (meaning at the printer actual cost for printing, current US$1.62) plus your International Shipping. You'll pay this after you receive the discount code from us so that you can handle your own shipping and address information at that time.

The advantage of this approach is that it allows this Kickstarter to be lean, quick, and simple, so that we can easily offer more story games like this in the future. It also has the added benefit that I don't have to inflate the prices to cover any potential production or postage hikes, so I can offer the best possible price!

Ludology (aka “the Study of Games”) Background

Back us today to be one of the first to try this new experience in collaborative, interactive storytelling game play. Read on to learn more about how and why the Gate Watch story game came about.

This story game was first inspired when I was researching various lists of thematic storytelling archetypes: 7 Basic Plots (Booker), 20 Master Plots (Tobias), 36 Dramatic Situations (Polti), 37 Photoplay Plots (Hill), Basic Patterns of Plots (Foster-Harris), Poetics (Aristotle), Shape of Stories (Vonnegut), and the TV Tropes Wiki (dyvers hands).

Though not explicitly named by these lists, many of the plot archetypes have binary sides. Good Guy/Bad Guy, Quest/Return, etc. Having recently played the GMless games Archipelago II (2009) & The Quiet Year (2013) which both made extensive use of a collaboratively created map, I realized that a map with two sides might be a powerful plot device. That lead thematically to focusing on a place between the maps — the Gate — as being an interesting point of play to explore.

This game's next biggest inspiration was when I was looking at pricing at Print-on-Demand cards for another game, and discovered that there were significant price breaks at 18 cards. So I set for myself a goal to create a game using only 18 cards, and to try keep the price below that of going out to a movie.

I have found considerable joy in creation using constraints. In one of my more popular free games Monster Smash (1994) my constraint was to keep the rules to a single page. This game has been in continuous play for over two decades at Bay Area game conventions, where I still hear “I love the smell of Play-Doh in the morning!".

Given the constraint of 18 cards, one of the first things I realized for this game was having all the backs of the cards be the same was a waste of space. After several play-tests using different inspirational images for the Gates on the card backs, this approach proved to be quite powerful. If this Kickstarter is successful, I hope to offer more 18-card story games.

For some of my story games, I have been using a resolution mechanism inspired by Archipelago II (2009) (which in turn was derived by Itras By (2008)), which extends the traditional improv "Yes, and…" with some additional choices.  Having just six such choices, balanced between good and bad, fits well into the constraints of having just 18 cards.

Finally, using the constraint of player questions to define other players’ characters rather than players creating their own characters was inspired by A Penny for My Thoughts (2009), and of course general improv "Yes, and…" pattern.

I play a lot of story games, so I'm sure that there are many other sources of inspiration that influenced this game, but these are the most important ones.

Who am I?

I am fascinated by the art and craft of collaboration, and have its practice and the study of how and why collaboration works at the center of my professional career as an entrepreneur, a software architect, and as a creator, producer & publisher in the game industry.

I have been a fan and supporter of games (especially roleplaying games) for decades, with old favorites including Call of Cthulhu and RuneQuest II. My new favorites are the collaborative games that have emerged in the last couple of decades, both in the form of GMless story games as well as in board games.

Professionally, I've done considerable work in the computer game industry: I was lead designer for Castle Marrach and Lovecraft Country online games and producer for mobile adaptions of several strategy games by Reiner Knizia and Michael Schacht. In the tabletop games industry, I produced Chaosium's award-winning Beyond the Mountains of Madness RPG supplement, resurrected Arkham Horror cooperative board game before licensing it to Fantasy Flight for their bestselling 2nd edition, and I support the tabletop gaming community as the owner/publisher of the popular website RPG.net.

Recently, I have been doing more personal projects, directly creating releases for the tabletop industry: I co-authored with Shannon Appelcline Meeples Together: How and Why Cooperative Board Games Work (2018) published by Gameplaywright with a successful Kickstarter last year, and I am preparing to release a number of story games through Dyvers Hands Productions. I am also an avid supporter of other game designers on Kickstarter and Patreon.

Risks and challenges

Every Kickstarter has its risks, but I've designed this one to keep those risks to a minimum. Even though this is the first Kickstarter under my name, I have been involved with a number of other game and book related Kickstarters, so I have a good understanding of the challenges.

The rules are written and complete, and they have been play-tested rigorously with both roleplayers and non-roleplayers. The graphics and card design have been polished and tested with trial runs with our printer.

The cards will be produced by POD publisher DriveThruRPG, who has a fully automated production cycle, from digital design to manufacture of packaged decks of cards, and has been delivering cards and games for many years. All that is left to do at the end of this Kickstarter is to send PDFs to our "Digital Print & Play" backers and to give DTRPG the email address of our "Just the Cards!" backers. They will send you a code to redeem the physical cards, and you will pay them separately for the shipping.

I've believe that I have anticipated everything I can, and kept everything as simple as possible. This campaign is low enough in budget and I have enough contingency both in terms of time and funds, that I'm confident that I can cope with any unforeseen challenges.

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Support

  1. Select this reward

    Pledge $3 or more About $3

    Digital Print & Play

    Download a "Print & Play" PDF version of the game, suitable for printing on Avery 5392 "Meeting Badge" Cards or cut out manually using the cut-lines.

    ** NOTE: To fulfill this delivery, you will need to have a DriveThruRPG Account. You must go to DriveThruRPG to redeem the code that you will receive following this Kickstarter. Read more in the FAQ. **

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    Pledge $9 or more About $9

    Just the Cards! (Canada & International)

    Get an At-Cost code for a print-on-demand copy of the 18 unboxed poker-sized cards at DriveThruRPG; this is everything you need to play! Includes a code for the "Digital Print & Play" reward.

    ** NOTE: To fulfill this delivery, you will need to have a DriveThruRPG Account. You must go to DriveThruRPG to redeem the code that you will receive following this Kickstarter. At that time, you will also separately pay the At-Cost price for the game, plus Shipping. The At-Cost price + Shipping to Canada is US$13.35 making the total cost of this card game $22.35. Other International At-Cost + Shipping costs can be as high US$35! Read more in the FAQ. **

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    Pledge $12 or more About $12

    Just the Cards! (US-Only—1st Class USPS)

    Receive a copy of the 18 unboxed poker-sized cards from DriveThruRPG; this is everything you need to play! First-Class USPS shipping inside the US is included. Includes a code for the "Digital Print & Play" reward.

    ** NOTE: To receive the "Digital Print & Play" portion of this reward, you will need to have a DriveThruRPG Account. You must go to DriveThruRPG to redeem the code that you will receive following this Kickstarter. Read more in the FAQ. **

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    Pledge $20 or more About $20

    Two Decks (US-Only—1st-Class USPS)

    The same as "Just the Cards!" reward but you get two copies shipped to the same US address. Save $4! First-Class USPS shipping inside the US is included. Includes a code for the "Digital Print & Play" reward.

    ** NOTE: To receive the "Digital Print & Play" portion of this reward, you will need to have a DriveThruRPG Account. You must go to DriveThruRPG to redeem the code that you will receive following this Kickstarter. Read more in the FAQ. **

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  5. Reward no longer available

    Pledge $49 or more About $49

    Storyteller Edition (US-Only)

    A special edition of Gate Watch, printed on plastic erasable water-resistant cards. The Resolution cards are slightly different and have boxes that can be checked off (and erased after). In addition to the base 18 cards there are 36 blank erasable cards for use during the game. This edition will be signed by the author, Christopher Allen.

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Funding period

- (20 days)