Our Sacred Waters – Design Notes

March 31, 2021


Yesterday, I put up my first game on itch.io as part of the TryFolds game jam. (For those not aware, a game jam is a contest where people submit games within a certain criteria. These jams are usually very short, between several days to several weeks long. It’s a way to get a little creative with designs, and experiment with something new. As the TryFolds submission page reads: “Jams get to be a little dirty, and a little punk, and that’s part of the appeal”. I can dig it.)

I was a bit nervous to get the game up on the site. It’s my first public foray into RPG design, and although the point of a jam is to be a little rough around the edges, I still wanted it to look good. I had been struggling initially to come up with something interesting. The TryFolds jam needed to utilize folds, as in folded paper, which certainly gave me some neat design concepts. The jam allowed for submissions to be supplements, but I was working towards a small but complete game.

Many sheets of paper were lost in the making of this jam.

THE FOLDED COMPASS 

The game I ended up submitting is called Our Sacred Waters. It’s a GMless game for 3-6 players, and takes about 2-4 hours to play a session. It works as a single one-shot, but can also be expanded as a longer campaign. And, of course, it uses folds.

The basic premise is that one players acts as the Sailor, a lost voyager on their way home. They must pass through the strange seas, sacred waters controlled by the powerful and petty gods. These Gods will work to deceive, aid, tempt and destroy you as you travel across the seas, stopping on various Islands in order to get home. The other players act as the Gods, with each answering several questions about their power as a God. Once the ritual is complete, the Gods then create and control the Islands visited by the Sailor. 

The folds come into play in two different ways. The first is the Sailor’s Map. As the Gods introduce Islands to the Sailor, the Sailor can then flip open their map and sketch what the Island looks like. This serves as a reminder of the adventures in their journey, and also helps them navigate their surroundings. (There’s no mechanical system for navigation, but it does help to see visually where you’ve already been in case you revisit an island.) 

But where the folds really present themselves are with the Gods’ Celestial Compass. The compass is a folded sheet of paper that has the markings of the compass rose. At the beginning of each voyage (once the Sailor boards their ship), the Gods will silently flip open a direction on the compass. Then they draw, write, or detail their ideas for the next Island. Silently, so as not to alert the mortal Sailor of divine decisions, the Gods will swap compasses, collaborating on which Island will be the next to be presented. 

The folds work well with the compass here, for two reasons. First, it’s an easy way to determine which way the Island is located in relation to the Sailor’s current location. Simply look at the direction of the compass rose, and the Sailor can sketch out the Island without having to ask or clarify where the island is. The second benefit of the folds are the secrecy element of Island selection. The compasses are exchanged quietly, so the Gods don’t accidentally reveal anything about the upcoming Islands. It’s kind of like a mini GM screen. It’s more of a courtesy to the Sailor than it is to specifically stop them from sneaking a peak. The secrecy isn’t necessary to play the game, but I think it adds a layer of curiosity for all parties.

NEXT STEPS

Unfortunately I only got to playtest the game once before the submission deadline. I was heading up to visit my partner’s parents (we all got the vaccine), and wouldn’t have access to my editing programs to finish the work while I was there, meaning I had to spend the last two days before the deadline scrambling to get the game done. It’s certainly a little rough around the edges, and there are some pretty notable flubs in it. Particularly around the hand drawn folding instructions. I was really cutting it close to the deadline with that part.

I think at some point I’d like to revisit this game and do a complete overhaul of the graphics on this one. It’s certainly playable as is, but it doesn’t exactly sing with the level of quality I’d like to see. Plus, once I’ve had enough time to properly playtest and workshop the game, it would be good to add some additional rules or structures to the system. I’ve got a few ideas floating around already, particularly about the navigation system.

But for now, Our Sacred Waters is available on my itch.io store for a tiny fee of $3.00 (Gasp!) But to anyone reading this: feel free to shoot me an email for a free copy! I’m happy to send over a file just to get the game out there. I just updated the site’s email server, so if you go to the About page, you should see a brand new email address there. Feel free to reach out!

“Dearest Sailor, your journey has been long and weary.
Yet still, you persist.”

 

Check out Our Sacred Waters on the Wetlander’s itch.io store.

 

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