Last month I launched a contest for Survival of the Able, and upcoming game I’ve been working on. Unfortunately the contest didn’t have any entries, but the character sheet was downloaded nearly two dozen times and I did receive a few pieces of feedback at least.
In the coming months I’ll talk more about the game and its design decisions. For now, here’s a brief overview.
Background and Goals
My primary goal for Survival of the Able is to give players an experience of what it’s like to have a disability. Most RPGs treat disabilities and drawbacks, hindrances, faults, etc. and assign them numerical penalties to ability checks–and that’s exactly what I wanted to avoid with this game. Being blind shouldn’t just be a -4 penalty to ranged attacks. Being deaf shouldn’t just be a 20% chance to miscast spells with verbal components. It’s so much more than that. And as for naming them drawbacks or faults? That’s another discussion entirely.
Survival of the Able removes the Gifts and Faults mechanics from the Fudge RPG system because I didn’t want to fall back on those mechanics to describe individuals with disabilities. Instead, I wanted to design mechanics which encouraged people to explore a variety of disabilities in a more organic way.
My other goal for the system was to avoid using mechanics and setting elements which would allow players to ignore, buy off, or trivialize their disabilities. I knew I had to pick a setting where technology and society weren’t there to help them.
In Psi-punk, a futuristic cyberpunk setting where body part replacements are the norm, it was easy to write off disabilities as something that could be replaced with high-tech gadgets. I knew I didn’t want to do that here. I also knew that a modern game would offer too much tech as well, even if it wasn’t quite up to par with full limb replacements. Although we have a long way to go before full cybernetic eye replacements are commonplace, we do have a lot of great assistive technology today.
Finally, I wanted to make things a bit uncomfortable for people. We live in a world where we’re often told what’s politically correct–what’s okay to say to people. We also have laws like the Americans With Disabilities Act in the United States which takes steps to ensure equal access for everyone. The truth is though, these sometimes well-meaning laws and language often serve to underhandedly make things more difficult and uncomfortable for people who have disabilities; our political correctness teaches us to pity or and talk down to others, not to see each other as equals.
I wanted to remove all of those pretenses from Survival of the Able, I chose to set the game in medieval Europe during a time when there were few protections for people with disabilities and even less care to treat each other as equals. I hope by doing this I can highlight some of the problems that are still intrinsic in society today–700 years after the game takes place.
There’s an overview of the game’s design goals and some of the choices I’ve made to meet those goals. In the future, I’ll talk more about the game mechanics and story elements I intend to use to bring about the experiences I’ve set forth.