The “Wagyu Fruitcake” Approach To Game Design

First, I must ask: “Wagyu Fruitcake.” Band or Album?

Hey! Look. Guess what hit the dance floor yesterday?

Compacts & Conspiracies for Hunter: The Vigil. It’s a PDF product from White Wolf Game Studios (CCP). I wrote it. For the game that I helped to design and that I developed. Basic gist is, it cracks open the breastbone on each of the compacts and conspiracies from the H:tV core and it roots around in the lung-meats and heart-holes for fresh meat, juice, and tissue. Sure, you can buy each compact and conspiracy separately, purchasing only the one you want, but hey, you’re no dummy. I can smell the intelligence on you, like a whiff of Hai Karate. You’ll buy the whole thing because you’re thrifty and wise.

(Oh, and to you silly knuckleheads who proudly won’t buy this product because it doesn’t cover the other conspiracies and compacts from the supplements: really? You’d really want to triple the price of this thing? You’d really want redundant information, since each conspiracy in the supplements got over five times the amount of word count that the core conspiracies got? You’d want to reduce the value of this product by customizing it for people who only bought one or none of the supplements? Maybe the book should also cover all the vampire covenants, and changeling courts? Me, I was hoping it would contain instructions on how to install a garbage disposal. And it would teach me how to hang-glide. Why do people feel so vocal about not spending money? “I won’t buy this because this is a dog and I wanted a duck!” Well, then don’t buy it. Do you really need to tell everybody about it? Newsflash: in my day to day, I don’t buy a lot of things. This morning alone I did not buy SCUBA gear, a Nissan Leaf, a pound of civet-shit coffee, or a book about antique sex robots. Do I rant about the things I’m not buying? No. Because then I’d be here all day. So stop it. Stop that nonsense. “This is a major problem that I see with how these books are written.” A major problem? No. A major problem would be if it was written in Klingon. A major problem would be if it accidentally contained only rules variants for Settlers of Catan. A major problem would be if the book turned into a monster and tried to eat your hands off.)

(Man, that turned into a whole other rant, though.)

(Sorry.)

(Moving on.)

So, I figure this is a good time to talk a moment about my game design and game writing ethos.

Used to be, I was a dumbass about writing game material.

And I apologize for that, because a bunch of you probably purchased some of my dumbass game-writing hoo-hah. Why was I a dumbass? Because I really liked to talk to — or at — the reader. This isn’t necessarily uncommon in game products, and is particularly common in, say, some White Wolf books, because it feels easy to wax poetic and go on at length about how it feels to be a Carthian vampire who just lost his dog, or a Bone Shadow werewolf who is watching a bum fight outside a hockey game or whatever, blah blah blah. It’s easy to just talk. The oh-woe-is-me monstrous condition is a good throughline, but it doesn’t demand a lot of examination.

Some older White Wolf books, I crack the cover, I start reading, and my eyes glaze over. Eyelids flutter like moths trapped in a child’s hand. Drool from lip as chin slackens. Muh. Guh.

And then, I wonder: what asshole wrote this?

*checks files*

Oh, right. Me. I’m the asshole.

Over time, and I dunno when this was, really, I started to feel like both brevity of idea and density of material could be a valuable combination. The first corebook where this really strikes me is in Changeling: The Lost, a book where any time I flip to a page I am abused and molested by a cabal of new ideas. Or, what about a book like Damnation City? Same thing. Flip, flip, flip, holy crap I can’t feel my legs the words are holding me down and stabbing me in the brain with the idea knife. A great example outside White Wolf is Spirit of the Century. Another book that infects my head like a termite colony, chewing holes in things I had been thinking about, and replacing those old ideas with hot squirming game ideas.

Hence, I now think of this as Wagyu Fruitcake.

Wagyu beef is a densely-marbled beef. Fruitcake (which unfortunately comes paired with negative connotations) is a rich cake product — heavy as a brick (and, made wrong, as tasty as one).

In either, each square inch of food is a super-compression of the essence of that food. You eat one bite of (good) fruitcake, you’re suddenly like, “I think I’m full. That was a whole meal.” You cut into some rich Wagyu beef and you can see the layers of fat and muscle and fat and muscle, all wound together like the swirls of milk in hot coffee, and the juices run free and —

Oooh. I think I just shellacked my manties.

What I’m saying is, when I write game material, I now strive for this. I want each page to have all those layers — layers of fat (meaning, the strong writing, the compelling explanations, words that are juicy and flavorful without being overwhelming) and layers of muscle (the game systems, the ideas, the — well, the meat). Meat and fat, meat and fat.

Or, in terms of fruitcake: cake and fruit and cake and fruit.

I want each page to have something new for the player, something new for the Storyteller, something rules-based, something idea-based, something story-based. No wasting time. No wasting pages. Each page, an idea knife stuck in your brain-block.

That’s what we all tried to do with Hunter: The Vigil, and that’s what  I did with Compacts & Conspiracies. So, know this: you buy that product, you’re going to get a densely-marbled game supplement. You will be getting the Wagyu Fruitcake approach to game design and game writing. Is it any good? Hell, I dunno. That’s for you to decide. I’m just telling you what I did; you can tell me if what I did worked.

You will find this same approach in World of Darkness: Mirrors.

You will also find it in Danse Macabre.

Meat, fat, blood, meat, fat, blood.

Cake, fruit, blood, cake, fruit, blood.

Sing it with me.