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25 July 2010

Pause: A Game of Time and Space // Introduction


That was the last real sound. The cut off so sudden, so loud in that sea of silence. Everything around was still, even your own flesh. Not paralyzed, not changed, not even sore. Just still. And then breath came again. The air around you moved sluggishly as you slowly stood up, and looked around the now silent lecture theater.

All was still.

And then it wasn’t. One by one, a couple of others stood, shaking off a tangible slowness, and gazing around the room in shock. Everything was frozen. Chairs on the verge of sliding, drinks on the edge of spilling, a thrown paper airplane carrying a message from one side of the crowded hall to the other, all stopped in their tracks.

A silent, frozen world, populated by the five, counting yourself, you could see almost wading through the sea of slowness. Some seemed to be speaking, yet there was no sound passing through the still air. How odd…

Then a crack appeared through the wall. Except, it wasn’t in the wall, and even as you watched it spread, moving through the air, the furniture, the people, seemingly without effect. A sense of profound wrongness surrounded it, a feeling of instinctive dislike and discomfort, a knowledge that, whatever it was, it was Wrong.

You were almost so distracted by its passage you didn’t notice the thing it left behind, but it’s hard to miss a jumbled together mass of tables and chairs rearing its “head” and howling in a voice which sounded like a thousand stools screeching over across an already scuffed floor. Then it turned to look at you.

Of course, you backed away. Any sensible person would back away. But a little voice at the back of your head told you this was your job. You had been selected to deal with a problem. You had no choice in the matter. The universe was broken, and it was up to you to put it back together.

You wouldn’t be entirely unaided, however. That ring, the one you got on holiday all those years ago, but still fits you perfectly, suddenly felt heavy in your hand. Then it felt warm. Then you found yourself holding a ring of shining steel, a circular blade you were certain was deadly sharp, yet you held with an easy competence, an almost innate understanding of its use suddenly blossoming in your mind.

The air around moved almost freely now, and looking around the room, all the others seemed to be moving faster, more freely, and almost all were armed. The thought occurred to you that a bladed ring thrown at thrice the normal speed possible might just help with the job ahead.

This was starting to get interesting…

Joshua Nanke-Mannell

Pause is a game of space, time, and everything in between. More specifically, it is a game of what happens in between moments in time. Many things happen during these slivers of our existence, things in which most people cannot grasp in such a short period of time. You and a select few however, are not “most people.” People like you can experience and determine what happens in between these moments.

At its core, Pause is a story-telling game with a number of components. Players assume the role of characters who somehow have gained the ability to act in a frozen moment of time. The characters also play out their lives in between these moments, generally investigating into the phenomenon of those frozen moments.

The Players are joined by a Coordinator, the person who assumes the role of everyone else – the remainder of the citizenry, the institutions, key characters, villains, so forth and so on. The Coordinator is also responsible for maintaining the story as it progresses, as well as adapting it whenever the characters bring the story in an unexpected direction than what the Coordinator has planned.

Together, the Players and the Coordinator play out a story in a setting of mystery, intrigue, and drama. There is no predetermined goal of saving a princess or gathering precious loot, but rather the goal of weaving a story that both the Players and the Coordinator will enjoy.

For the sake of simplicity and accessibility, the setting presented in this manual is modern-day human civilization. However, the rules in this manual can apply to almost any setting ranging from the civilized past to the far future, so Coordinators can feel free to come up with stories that deal with this theme in another age.

Despite the flexibility of the setting, Pause primarily has a feel of investigation and discovery. The characters should be treated as regular people who have been thrust into the strange and unfamiliar world of the frozen moment. Characters should have trouble initially understanding this phenomenon, but slowly learning more and more as the story continues.

Death is also very real in Pause, be it through happenings in the normal world, or through terrible failure in the frozen moment. When characters die, they are gone permanently, unable to be revived through metaphysical means as in most story-telling games.

Overall, the mood is that of a dramatically enhanced real world. It is a world fraught with danger, but also the chance to learn secrets previously unknown to humankind.

Like many story-telling games, there is always an element of chance. This random element is represented by the throwing of dice. In Pause, dice are used primarily for two functions: conducting combat and tests within the frozen moment; and resolving situations in between those moments which are too close to call through role-playing alone.

Pause uses only one type of die – the ten-sided die (“d10”). During the aforementioned situations, Players throw a number of d10's, which represent a character's attempt to succeed in a given task, be it damaging an enemy, solving a puzzle, intimidating someone who is withholding information, so forth and so on. The results are compared against a target number (“TGT”) which the Coordinator issues before the Player rolls the dice. With exception, if at least one of the dice scores above the target number, the character succeeds in the task.

The Coordinator is encouraged to exhibit some flexibility in how the game is run. While dice rolls can offer resolution when it would be too difficult and lengthy in the case of a close call, effective role-playing can help determine an outcome even before assigning a target number. This is especially the case when a character suggests a creative and unorthodox, but completely justifiable solution to a task that the Coordinator has not expected. The Coordinator's actions should feed from those of the Players, and vice versa. Remember, the goal is to create a great story that combines the efforts of both the Coordinator and the Players.

- - -

I found the above passage a while back, finding it interesting enough to warrant making a system out of. After about a month of going on and off of it, tinkering with this or that, I came up with a workable system for playtesting. However, I felt that since I really liked the passage, I wanted to at least get Mr. Nanke-Mannell's permission to use it if the game gets published. Fortunately, he wanted to help me further develop Pause with his own ideas as well. It's great that I now have a partner to help me out with making this game, since it would be a much larger undertaking by myself.

I will not post the mechanics here yet.  However, there is a PDF of the current playtest rules available on MegaUpload thanks to Mr. Nanke-Murrell. Feel free to use it as you wish. If you wish to playtest this game, by all means let me know that you're going to do that. Also, frequent feedback would also be appreciated if you choose to participate in a playtest.

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