Princess Awesome

Being a record of the excecution and results for the Princess Awesome game design contest

Here's the original post - written more as an afterthought:

Design Competition: Princess Awesome.

Design challenge - make for me a dice-crunchy game where you play an awesome Princess. You basically play someone like one of the following:

Princess Leia (no gold bikinis)
Sorsha (from the movie Willow)
Eowyn (the book version from LotR)

Prize - i'll buy you up to two (2) candy bars of your choice.

Submissions must be in PDF format. Post links here.

Alternative Design Challenge - write me an awesome story about the following characters in a team-up situation:

Princess Leia (no gold bikinis)
Sorsha (from the movie Willow)
Eowyn (the book version from LotR)

So, obviously, nobody entered the 'alternative' contest. And only 3 people entered the design challenge.
Here's some Errata from a little later on…
(posted on October 6, 2012)

It is official as of this afternoon.
Our three contestants are as follows:

Hans Andersen Princess Knights
Michael Wight Princess Provocateur
David Priebe A Tale of Princesses

All contestants have one week to finalize and resubmit any drafts they want to. New contestants have until Dawn on Saturday the Thirteenth of October to submit their additional text drafts.

Anyone wishing to participate in the judging or playtesting of these games please sign up here, in the comments, or write to me via email.

Winner will be determined in 3 weeks or after i've done a playtest of all three, whichever comes first.

The Games

Princess Knights by Hans Andersen

Summary - a game of collaborative world-building and high-powered, young, ultra-capable female royalty. The game centers most around a Countdown Clock used to measure and generate threats to the Princess' Kingdom. They work together or individually to overcome these obstacles as they appear, eventually facing down their Evil Stepsisters and, in the epic ending, their Stepmother. Game has a GM and supports a handful of Princesses. Each have at their disposal several resources including Princes, Wealth, Beauty, Adoration (from the kingdom), Virtue and Moxie. Their station, however, is randomly generated based on a series of Princess archetypes called Backgrounds.

Princess Provocateur by Michael Wight

Summary - a beautifully, well-put together two-page game (featuring a full color cover, no less) that plays with a deck of cards and one sparkly jewel of a D12. First you flip some cards to match some Oracles about who your Princesses are, who the Prince is/what he's like, and who the Threat is/what it's like. From there you progress through a series of scenes showing how awesome your Princesses are, occasionally dealing with the appearance of the Prince. The Prince always steals the show from the Princesses, and, eventually, will capture the heart of one of them. The Threat is defined by the Oracles, but is the mainstay for what you set your scenes up against. In the end, one Princess will acquire all the treasure from their daring adventure, and move on to her own fame/fortune.

A Tale of Princesses by David Priebe

Summary - A hint of Leverage and a dash of old Storyteller system are the root for this under-stated game design. Though the mechanics assume no GM, the traditional feel matches perfectly with the traditional stereotype it bunks. You build your Princess first by declaring "what you are the Princess of." This could be "The Kingdom of Ooo" or "Ninjas." What you are the Princess of determines what virtues and codes you live by. You have four basic Stats: Athleticism, Wiles, Purity, and Nobility, which couple with a handful of pre-written Skills. You also have one Asset - which can be pretty much anything. Stats and Assets are a measure of d4 - d10, while Skills add multiple d6. The game is designed to be played out in a series of structured scenes, beginning with the creation of the Princess and their many-kingdomed world, followed by the random generation of a threat, the villain, the villain's henchman, and the event that just kicked off the story. From there you play an awesome introductory scene for each of your Princesses, each one appearing in a small vingnette that shows how rad they are, and then joining forces; this is the Gathering scene. After that you go through a series of round-robin GMed scenes facing troubles and obstacles on an Adventure (this is the Adventure scene) meant to level up or acquire a new Asset. Once this happens, you face the main villain in a grand Finale.

Submissions - the three games were very different in length and execution. Princess Knights was first delivered as a printout, then later given to me as a Word Doc (though no points were deducted for this) roughly half a dozen pages long, with a couple of random generation charts. Princess Provocateur was built into a fold-in-half booklet meant for print on one sheet of paper, the cover being an awesome original digital illustration and the back being the kick-off oracles. a Tale of Princesses also a text document, was by far the longest submission, complete with two excellent summary pages, all the tables on a reference sheet, and a rough draft Character Sheet and Threat Sheet. It even had an index!

The Reviews

Princess Knights - Playtested second, by me, Lukas Myhan and Jonathan Walton

So i'm not going to lie - this was the least-finished of the three. So, after reading, i was lucky to have the perfect crew for this one-shot - Lukas Myhan, psychic badass is my go-to rules-digester, and Jonathan "the Wildcat" Walton is master taster for Game Chef every year. Together we totally brought it.

First Impression
After reading the game i didn't get it. I knew vaguely what was going to be going on, but i didn't really know how to anticipate it. Still, i was really excited. It had an approach that felt very keen, and some elements i loved. For starters, you roll a d6 to determine your background, because "Princesses are born, not made." And the archetypes Hans uses are not just perfect, they're brilliant illustrations and very, very informed. Ranging from Mononoke to the various movie incarnations of Leia, this game sets you up very clearly to understand what kind of awesome Princess you are. In fact, the first thing it tells you is, aside from doing amazing major event-level awesomeness, you're assumed capable of doing all the standard action movie fare. Ride horses? no problem. Fight pirates with a lazer sword? yawn, done. This is a game of macro-level threats for high-quality super-ladies. I was in for that.

The Playtest
So, we quickly learned that this game has some gaps and some false choices. Lukas was the one to point out that the game literally uses the phrase "GM" once. In a single sentence. That's not only where we learned that this game has a GM, but it's the only whiff of how to be the GM. The rest is left out. Assuming incorrectly we started our game without a GM.

We set up a very cool world - our Princesses were each the genetically-enhanced clones of a CEO/Queen in a far future of corporate kingdoms and interstellar politics. Our origin gave us the story element that the Queen/CEO would produce various copies of herself, send them out to grow and learn, and then murder all but the best to be her vessel, inheriting the muti-centruy memories of all Queens before her, and take up the mantle of Queen/CEO. Lukas was the Metropolitan, which he decided was the 'primary' vessel that would receive the psychic aura/memories of the current Queen/CEO. I was the Changeling - a copy sent with a research crew to an inhabited alien world ala "Avatar" who was the sole-survivor of the harsh environment and became a princess among the aliens. Jonathan was the Exile - a lost copy living among a working crew taken over by a foreign corporation on a steel-volcano world.

From there, however, the game had some halts. It was clear you didn't really have a choice on your turn other than 'confront a threat.' So we populated the midnight clock with three threats. Then each took a turn to …make them go away. Jonathan claimed that the game needed a GM to really push the Threats. I felt the game should go GMless and give some other options for what to do with your turn, and a better means for generating the Threats. As the games (assumed) primary mechanic is a currency of "resources" that you must use for any and all Rolls made against Threats, the game needs more places to spend these points. The clock would work better if you actually felt the Threats were moving dangerously closer to midnight, and a forced ending where you loose your stakes. Otherwise it's just a question of "well, did you roll a 1? Then we have to do this thing now."

Princess Provocateur - playtested first, by me, Lukas Myhan and David Drake

This game wins you over on look and presentation alone. But it's got more under the hood to love. Yet, also, has a couple things that i had to take issue with.

First Impression
I printed a dozen copies of this game at work and just carried them around. You can read it in 15 min if you're slow like me. And you can play it at the drop of a hat. Of the three, this one had the most solid execution - it was clear how to play and what to do and what makes the fun and what makes the tension. There's only one rule that cropped up in play that didn't feel super-explicit (you have to play your highest card to defeat the standard, you can't choose to 'loose' a hand to the standard to avoid playing a Heart card). So what i went into the playtest expecting was 'Okay, cool, this game could go gonzo super easy, but doesn't have to, it can totally be a serious game, too. And it's telling me i'm a bad-ass Princess, rad."

The Playtest
I got together and threw all the games out. I said, "A Tale of Princesses is more of a campaign-feeling thing to me, to be honest." So the group settled on playing PP - that's how we got to it. We flipped some cards, threw together some awesome oracles into this premise: We were each holy priestess princesses form our respective worlds in an interstellar galaxy of cool princesses. The game started with us being the only survivors of a psychic devastation caused by an evil warlord princess. This took place at the Con Planet, during the final ceremonies of Princess Con. The warlord princess was earlier kicked out for being so disruptive. So she came back, murdered a bunch of people, and took us hostage - the top three contestants, about to receive the news of who was number one princess in the galaxy. Lukas was Princess Pettygru, of Planet Stadium, where a constant rock-show is going on 24/7. David was Princess Frost of the Dying World. And i played Princess Shinobi, of the Ninja Planet. We woke up in a psychic cage-trap on the Psychic Warlord's planet, and fought our way across it's Apokalyps-like landscape to face her, Princess to Princess. Along the way, however, we met this jerk, the prince…who's name escapes me now. He was a dangerously overconfident, rock-guitar playing, 80's styled jerkwad that kept telling us to go home, since he was here, to put the evil Psychic Warlord Princess in her place. He did this with stupid rock-music magic that shot rainbows, and by jumping like a kung-fu movie everywhere. We each played this guy. And he was a total turd. We each revealed - through improved role-play - that he was once engaged to Pettygru, and once in love with Frost. He spent a good part of the game in love with me, who he just met, but finished out in love with Frost all along. If i recall correctly, i made off with the treasure - which we interpreted as being the new leader of the Psychic Warlord planet.

A Tale of Princesses - playtested by Jackson Tegu, Erin-Sara Beach Garcia, and Orion Canning; facilitated by me

First Impression
Okay, so, not being nice here. I read this game and went, "Okay. It's a Cortex Plus game, i guess." I was unimpressed. But, as i started to playtest, and as i re-read the game, i started to get more and more excited. As PK and PP let me down in a couple of different ways i became even more driven to try this game. It's simple, but not so simple it doesn't support. It's very structured, but not so much that it's telling me what to do, just how to do it.

The Playtest
While my playtesters may disagree, i felt like this game went smooth. Better than PK, not as good as PP, but smooth enough to say it's fully cooked. If you want to know what play is like, play pretty much any post-Storyteller system game at a con. It's nothing new, yeah, but it's an excellent blend. Some chefs are amazing because they think of things that blow you away. Some are amazing because they can make you the best pizza ever. This is a classic dish, but it's got the flavors just right.

So i just facilitated, because i felt the one thing the game tries to do that i just wasn't into was having a round-robin GM. If we'd played it striaght-out-of-the-box, then that forced us to say, "Um, okay…so why are we splitting up?" or "Okay, so we're all there, why aren't we just fighting together?" I'll be honest here - i twisted this game, and that's probably pretty crummy. Some of it was on purpose - i felt this game needed a single GM if it was going to work. I was probably wrong on that. Then, at some point, as i was re-reading it, i'd written what i thought were 'alternative' rules for helping, only to find out half-way through the playtest that those were rules i'd just made up. So that was definitely wrong.

Still, the things i was excited about did deliver. Open world setup was just this: make up a world. And it worked perfectly. I said, "what about a he-man esque world?" and the players said, "okay." Then the big, awesome, killer part for me. I got to say, "What are you the Princess of?"

ESBG: "Princess of the Lion Riders"
OC: "Princess of Sky Castle"
JT: "Princess of Growing Up"

I looked around the room and thought, "ohmyglob. this is going to be so rad." And it was! Not perfect, not without flaw. [sidenote: we couldn't find a stat for guns, so we decided somehow that the 'shopkeeping' skill was for guns, because you ran a gunshop. Which lead to the hilarious imagery of Shopkeepers being treated like total badasses.] But in the end these three mysterious princesses met up, joined forces, and went after a dark-god-being-thing. Along the way we witnessed the misery of a magical acid rain that was scarring the landscape. We met ancient monks that made magical paints in the chromatic mountains from perfectly white stone struck by the spectrum of colored lightning storms that ravage their heights. And we fought some kind of crazy wood-man assassin thing.

We didn't get to finish, because of time, which means it's 'pick up and play' attitude doesn't really deliver. But in this game there were three Princesses. And the were rad. Solid gold.

The Results

Okay, so each of these games gave me a really solid, really awesome game-premise and game experience. In the end, though, i'm going to weigh this by my own personal opinions. And i like playing a highly-capable, bad-ass character that fights dragons and shoots Darth Vaders. So, in the end, the winners were clear…

Third Place for Best New Ideas is Princess Knights

Hans Andersen has cooked up a really kick-ass idea that is, unfortunately, only half-baked. The idea of playing a game about royalty where you actually can solve major epic problems with really high stakes by, heck, sending out your Prince to do something about it, is a fresh idea to me. Before play i didn't get this game. After-play i feel like it's a great framework for playing a game where you could sit in a command chamber, or throne room, or war-department for a major corporation, and look at each other and say stuff like, "The Gorgons have remained dormant until now, but our spies indicate the Cult's motion to awaken them. What do we do now?" and then you place a token on the Midnight Clock.

All this game needs is some play-storming, a new Alpha Draft, and it's going to be on it's way to a kick-ass thing. It told me i would play a bad-ass Princess, and, for the most part, it did. Unfortunately, from a personal angle, bad-ass to me is the most fun when riding war-horses and shooting lazer swords from my fists. It was cool that i could just do that whenevs. But it was pretty wide-angle in it's execution, which meant i didn't really do that stuff. Instead, i worked for the unification of the Princess Clones, and the usurpation of the Corporate Kingdom.

As stated before, i think this game could work really well with some kind of random threat generator and a few better options for what to do on your turn besides just confronting the Threats. If you had to measure and weigh your choices, being tempted or even forced into letting certain threats count down closer to Midnight, this could be an excellent method for playing big, Game of Thrones-esque Princess games. It could be like an awesome RP-centric version of Civilization or even The Sims. Sure, it's kinda weak that my bad-ass Princess doesn't really ride around shooting lazers, but it's way, way badass that i'm stoked that this game really feels like i'm taking care of a Kingdom.

Third Place for awesome new ideas.

Second Place for Best Execution is Princess Provocateur

This game delivered in every way except for one - the Prince. While Knights and AToP both say 'here, play badass princesses' this is the only game where i was, more than a few times, showed up by a jerkwad. And in the end, the odds of none of the characters being married off to the jerkwad is…pretty out of range. In the end, this game has a cooked-in looser: the Princess who has to marry a jerkwad.

So you could say that this is a huge commentary on how women are treated in mainstream stories and fariytales, and such an excellent expression of how it must feel to be a female in genre fiction. And that's all true. But i'd be lying if i didn't say that element sucked. I just totally hated that jerkwad, which was intentional! The game was designed to do that! But, man, what a jerkwad. I wanted to be a cool, awesome princess, and this game gave me that, and then threw a pie in my face. It's brilliant, but for being smart-candy, not bad-ass-candy. And i'm not above admitting it: i'd prefer thoughtless-funtimes-candy over moral-hard-candy any day.

All that said, this game goes in my bag with me everywhere now. It's not just a smart idea that makes you think about how we treat Princesses in our stories, it's an excellent design that's laid out with class and cunning. I'm a huge, huge fan of games that can give me a cool experience, that's also specific, and still fit on two letter size pages. (and don't tell me about Ghost/Echo, I know about Ghost/Echo and -srsly- that's not what i'm talking about). Michael's game is tight, the design has no holes, and takes you from start to finish with graceful panache. This game is poetry that makes you laugh and makes you think. Pick it up. It's done, and it's ready to make you applaud.

First Place for Giving Me Exactly What I Want is A Tale of Princesses

Going way back to the beginning - i said 'dice-crunchy game where you play an awesome Princess.' In PK i got to play an awesome princess, but it didn't really matter - what mattered was my role in the world. In PP i got to play an awesome princess..who was in turn showed up by a jerkwad, and in constant threat of marrying him. In this game - which i didn't get to play, only facilitate - there were three Princesses. They were riding giant eagles and lions, they fought assassins, and they traveled a magical awesome landscape. And, dammit i'm the one running this contest (and nobody stepped up to help me judge) so i'm calling it. This game is the best. It gives me what i wanted. Bad ass princesses going on a big adventure to fight a villain. Done. Winner.