2006-10-18: Steal Away Jordan
We playtested Julia's game Steal Away Jordan last night at Meg's house. In Steal Away Jordan, you play slaves in the Antebellum US South, dealing with the struggles and conflicts involved with being enslaved.
We played two young female slaves in Louisiana. Mine was a baker with strong arms and a winning smile. Meg's was (I believe) a young tailor, who lusted after a decadent silk scarf. You choose 5 attributes and distribute dice based on points that are equal to the monetary value the slave would have held. You choose goals for the characters, and if everyone chooses Rebellion, you can potentially have a slave revolt in the game.
Yes, that's right, this game is serious.
We didn't have much time, so just did a quick sketch of character creation and ran through two or three conflicts. We consulted a root doctor, and did the first stages of beginning a rebellion. The resolution system uses yahtzee dice, and cards for the spells from the root doctors. Julia has even incorporated a way for her d30 to be used in a meaningful way: in a rebellion, the players join their forces and get opposed by the GM who can rally their resources in any die denomination they choose, including that d30.
This game has real potential. Julia is pulling no punches, yet is writing a game where slaves have agency and direction. Her piece de la resistance, is the skull die. There is a die, the black skull die, that sits in the middle of the table. Anyone can roll it at any time, and if you roll a 6 on it, something wonderful happens and you move closer to your goals. But if you roll a 1 and that skull comes up... You die. Your character bites it. No argument, no question. You can play another character, but that one's life is over.
She's playtesting this for real at JiffyCon in November.
2006-10-18 20:51:53 Meguey
I'm really pleased with the amount of stuff she's thought out, and the way the mechanics flow so naturally from the fiction. When I first heard about this game, I wasn't sure about dice and cards and a fate die, but it played smoothly. I'm looking forward to more playtesting, where we can work out how character development works, and if anything else needs tweaking.
2006-10-19 16:33:08 ScottM
I recently read an excellent book, written by an slave who escaped in the late 1840s and published just before the civil war. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, by Harriet Jacobs. (If you're to playtesting, you might be beyond needing sources... but she has very sharp commentary that might be useful as a quote mine.)
2006-10-19 18:27:12 Julia
I read that book many years ago, and remember very little of it. I should ask my mom to send it.
Speaking of my mom, she's going to be my fountain of wisdom. She's the director of the African and African-American Studies program at University of Memphis. We've had some really great conversations related to our interests and how they currently intersect. Plus she sends me cool books.
Want to learn to talk to your parents? Write a role playing game!
2006-10-19 20:28:51 Jason M
I'm so down with this it hurts my teeth.
Commoditizing the characters is a brilliant move.
Julia, I'd love to see a playtest draft.
2006-10-20 04:19:27 Julia
Sure! I'll have one by JiffyCon. Right now everything is written in my cutie kitten composition book, and probably is only readable to me.
2006-10-20 11:54:42 Jason M
OK, whenever you want some feedback, let me know.
2006-10-20 12:35:29 Mo
Intriguing! I'm looking forward to seeing this.
And as a side note, the baby is extremely eatably cute.
2006-10-30 04:38:24 Kintara
Hmm, this sort of reminds me of a game idea I had in the back of my head where the players play wobblies (the Industrial Workers of the World), radical unionists that really captured my imagination and respect when I read about them in one of my American Studies textbooks.
I think it'll be interesting to me to see, at the very least, how you deal with the subject matter in relation to the mechanics, Julia. The bolded section about the stats being related to the monetary value of the character as a slave certainly interests me (unsurprisingly, I suppose ;)). That's definitely a way to capture everyone's attention and really ground you to the reality of slavery. Was that something you thought of early on in the process of development?
2006-10-30 15:18:43 Emily
That reminds me of Carrie's Iron Game Chef entry: Sedition. Another great game.
There is a lot of history out there that would make great material for games, just waiting to be exploited. I'm looking forward to having a shelf full of awesome historicals: Steal Away Jordan, Shab Al-hiri Roach, Grey Ranks, and on...
2006-10-30 15:37:49 Julia
The whole stats relating to monetary value of slaves happened accidentally. When I was figuring the stats, I first broke them down male, female, young, old, child. Then I thought, "gee, it would be interesting if the stats corresponded to the value of the slave." Slave prices fluctuated over the years, and some slaves, depending on their skill would fetch a higher price than others if their skill was in demand. So I'm still working out a general "price schedule/stat level", but will keep it broken down by gender then age, and people will get an extra die if depending on their skill.
2006-11-08 12:20:07 Andrew Kenrick
I love the commodification of the characters, I love the idea of rebelling but boy do I love the skull die most of all. That fits so perfectly it's untrue.
2006-11-09 00:56:42 Meguey
Yeah, the skull die is brilliant, and it's so darn arbitrary! You might be fine, or you might DIE ay any time, and you get to decide if it's worth the risk.
2006-11-13 14:14:34 Julia
During playtest on Saturday, it worked brilliantly. I found that the GM should really entice the players to use it, it should figure more prominently in fallout rolls (which I need to add anyway), and it's really cool when a character dies, just like that.