The Great American Novel, A Roleplaying Game is a collaborative storytelling tabletop roleplaying game for 3 to 6 players that uses character-driven game play to create a literary experience for a variety of settings and genres.
I am a novelist and publisher, my wife is a novelist and literature professor, and our family is surrounded by books. It is no surprise that I wanted to apply literary structure to roleplaying games, but before I created The Great American Novel framework, I never really had the means to do so.
There are storytelling games on the market that I absolutely love, such as Protocol or Fiasco and there are other games that use literary devices such as Ten Candles and Good Society, however I was seeking a framework that could work for any genre or setting, just as long as the point of the game was about characters and their motivations, not necessarily plot or action.
GAN was produced as a result of that exploration and uses some of the latest innovations in the independent gaming space including elements from Apocalypse World and Powered by the Apocalypse games, FATE, Ten Candles, the Story Pillar system from Home By Dark, derived from Fiasco. There are other inspirations in there too of which I'm probably not even cognizant.
The final result is a framework that applies literary structure to any setting. With minimal or no alterations it can be used to run anything from The Shining to The Avengers--any set-up at all that focuses on characters and their personal journeys.
At its heart though, it works best with its namesake, creating the experience of a "Great American Novel." The literary structure compels an experience that emulates diving into a good book and not resurfacing until you've felt all the feels.
- Interior artwork will be by Robert Hebert, ENnie-nominated for his work on The Happiest Apocalypse on Earth.
- The Beta version of the game is already complete and currently undergoing a developmental edit by Christopher Sniezak at Encoded Designs and Misdirected Mark Productions, who has written and designed for Fate, Gumshoe, and Dungeons & Dragons and has worked on development for several titles including Hydro Hacker Operatives and recent successful Kickstarters Iron Edda and Streets of Avalon.
- Once funded, the book will be line edited by Lauren McManamon, editor of the Gauntlet's Codex, The Veil: Cascade by Fraser Simons, the Uncanny Echo zineby Fraser Simons, and Good Society: A Jane Austen RPG by the Storybrewers and the upcoming Hack the Planet by Fraser Simons .
- Gallant Knight Games will publish and distribute the game.
- It will be black and white illustrated, approximately 100 pages.
- There will be digital character sheets for online play, in addition to the digital formats of the book
- U.S.: $5 added to your pledge
- International: $15 added to your pledge
The Great American Novel has three specific criteria for every Novel to create an experience resembling some of the best American literature:
Character-motivated stories that are focused on their interactions and personal journeys in a thoughtful and meaningful way.
Honestly depicts the characters, events, and history; use of magic and the supernatural are welcome, as long as these themes are also depicted honestly and realistically.
Situations and characters that are unique to the U.S., whether currently or historically.
Beyond this criteria, it is entirely up to the table to determine what themes they would like to experience. These can be broadly-stroked ideas like “fall from grace,” or specific experiences like “loss of a family member.” They can also bring up a particular time period or genre “film noir” or “1960s counterculture.” They could be places “Jamestown” or events “The Battle of Bunker Hill.”
The game provides tools to help players determine what themes, time period, and setting they want to explore and also features built-in safety mechanics to address themes they do not want included.
During its many play tests, we've experienced a wide range of settings including 1940s Los Angeles, 1920s New Orleans, 1950s New Mexico, and 1890s Wyoming. We've also used it to play out the experience of certain films such as The Godfather, Fargo, and The Exorcist. It has proven a nimble and effective framework for capturing the themes of any one of those experiences.
The GAN framework is based upon the resolution of conflicts that are presented in game. They can be setting conflicts which are always in play, (e.g. The Great Depression) or character conflicts that come up in play (e.g. Corrupt Mayor) or conflicts created between to player characters (e.g. Betrayal), etc. The conflicts are simply put into play on an index card as they come up.
GAN uses a Powered by the Apocalypse approach to dice resolution, wherein the narrative triggers a move and so then the player roles 2d6 plus a stat to adjudicate the outcome of the move. However, the only way a player can make a move is by confronting a conflict. So if a character wanted to, for example, punch a person in the face they could only roll a move if there was a conflict on the table that made sense for the action (e.g. Betrayal). If they succeed on the move then the conflict is resolved.
There is a currency in the game called Plot Points that players can use to take narrative control over the fiction. They can also use it to create conflicts to confront if there isn't an appropriate one available. The game's facilitator (called the Novelist) can also award Plot Points for creating problematic conflicts for characters. This give and take of narrative control functions much in the same way as Fate Points do in FATE, with the exception that it is centered around conflicts as opposed to adjusting die rolls.
Another primary mechanic is the character Arc. This is a spectrum that defines whether a character is rising toward a heroic fate or falling to tragic demise. The Arc changes with move outcomes and adjust which moves are available to characters.
Stats and Moves
There are three abstracted stats: Instinct, Personality, and Morality, each in line with the psychological id, superego, ego, and help to define the overall disposition of the character. Moves are, in of themselves, rather unique as well. They are far more abstract and focused less on the actual action that takes place and more about the intent of the action. For example, in the case above a character is punching someone, the move could be Protect Yourself if the intent aligns with that and so is therefore a "rising" move. However, the same action could be Lash Out if the intent is because they were angry, and so therefore is a "falling" move.
The primary functionality driving the game is that the players are brought through a series of chapters that are based on the hero's journey framework, a common literary structure first introduced by Joseph Campbell, but then adapted by many others for fiction and film. The chapter system in GAN resembles more of a stripped down version of Christopher Vogler's refinement. Each chapter has a general requirement that must happen narratively before the players move onto the next chapter. The narrative structure helps to emulate a literary feel, compels change within the characters, and works to resolve the entire story in a satisfying and conclusive way.
In addition to the core mechanics, there are also twelve archetypes, which serve as playbooks for players to create and manage their characters. The archetypes have unique motivations, personalities, and adjustments to their stats when rising or falling.
Examples of Play
Interviews / Discussions
I am a tabletop roleplaying game designer, publisher, author, and marketer. My work spans from fantasy and science fiction, to alternative history, supernatural, and conspiracies. I successfully Kickstarted and fulfilled The Happiest Apocalypse on Earth, a satirical horror Powered by the Apocalypse game which was nominated for the 2018 ENnie Awards for Game of the Year and for Best Interior Art (created by Robert Hebert).
In addition to game design, I have published over a dozen books for both fiction and nonfiction authors under Pacific Coast Creative Publishing, as well as my own novel Will Shakespeare and the Ships of Solomon.
Risks and challenges
The Great American Novel represents my second Kickstarter, however I have participated in several others. I am using a carefully-built budget model and planning system to hedge against any unforeseen delays or budget crunches. The biggest risk is timing. While the game is complete and undergoing editing, there are always unexpected delays that can come into play. I have every confidence that I can mitigate the obstacles and deliver on time.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)