October Night Games of Social Deduction

The power will rise till the night of its fullness, on the thirty-first, the combination which brings us together. And with the rising we begin our work, that which draws us apart. The days ahead will be interesting, as the openers and closers reveal themselves by their actions.

Roger Zelazny – A Night in the Lonesome October

Which side are you on?
Which side are you on?
Which side are you on?
Which side are you on?

Florence Reece – Which Side Are You On?
You may try to summon the Ancient Gods, or protect our realm from their rule, you will have to dig at the cemetery anyway

The setting of October Night Games is built around the ritual of the Great Game, which determines whether the gates that separate our world from the Ancient Gods and their offspring will open or stay closed. On the full moon on Halloween, the two teams of Changers and Keepers confront each other, laying out the ingredients on the altar and exchanging spells and curses. 

The final ritual is preceded by 30 nights of preparation, during which the players collect ingredients, perform Lesser Rituals, obtain artifacts, find servants and sacrifice materials. Allies and opponents have to interact with each other, but no one knows in advance who will turn out to be a friend, who will be the enemy, with whom is it good to trade, whom to fight, who should be assisted and who should be confronted.

Thus, October Night Games contains features inherent in games of social deduction. The most famous representatives of this genre are Mafia or Werewolf. These games (in fact, this is one game, the differences are only in the setting, the mechanics of the Mafia and Werewolf are identical and created by one person) appeared in the 80s. The psychological experiment was turned into a great game, which simultaneously gained a lot of popularity on both sides of the ocean, with countless options, modifications, and variants. Separately, it is worth highlighting the political game of social deduction Secret Hitler, in which a group of fascists is looking for ways to abuse democratic procedures, and the liberals are trying to identify and neutralize the conspirators.

Some elements of this genre are also used in board games without a roleplaying element. In the game Saboteur, saboteurs disturb the work of honest gnome miners and the players have to recognize who makes harmful actions intentionally and who has to do it because of bad cards. In the board game Battlestar Galactica, based on the series of the same name, people are opposed by Cylons, disguised cyborgs who may commit acts of sabotage at the most unexpected moments. Unlike the Mafia / Werewolf, these games offer a possibility to determine the affiliation of opponents not only by their words but also by their actions: destructive actions can be the result of an unlucky coincidence or a malicious intent. The same can be said about the computer game I am not a Monster: alien parasites are hiding among the passengers of the spacecraft; they can be detected because of their strange behavior or if they recklessly show their true appearance.

Friends or Foes?

All the games mentioned so far have one thing in common – players, by default, are considered to belong to the “good”, “law-abiding” team, and only a small number are masked foes, who need to be identified. But there are other examples, for example, in the game Carriage to the Devil’s Castle, two equivalent secret societies compete. It is possible to guess which player belongs to which of the teams based on what artifacts they seek to get. The Coven game is a little more complicated, where in addition to the confrontation between the “good” and “evil” witches, an internal struggle for power and influence in each clan is waged.

October Night Games concept art: The Witch

Some games of social deduction are based on roleplaying, the ability to bluff and call someone else’s bluff, while others provide teams with the opportunity to prove themselves through game mechanics. In the tabletop version of October Night Games, roleplaying is possible but completely optional. Moreover, it is not necessary for a computer game: the communication between players (human or AI-based) will be carried out using pre-written phrases so that it will not be possible to confuse the enemy with good acting. It is necessary to guess the team affiliation precisely according to the actions of the players: Changers and Keepers possess magical techniques that are available only to a certain team. Their use can give an easy tactical advantage, but it will give a player out. Is power worth conspiracy? But another question is even more interesting, what should the rest of Players do when somebody gives themselves away? Should they help their ally and attack the enemy? Or should they do the exact opposite, confusing everyone else? 

There is another important unique feature of October Night Games, which lies in the game setting itself. The characters and their familiar have a personality. A vampire, a witch, a serial killer, a sectarian monk, a mad scientist, and many others – each of them has a character and a story. The same can be said about their animal companions. But the distribution of Player/Familiar pairs and their teams is determined by a chance every time. Even today, in the early prototype, the chance to get an identical alignment twice in a row is 1/72, and the number of characters and familiars will increase soon. Thus, the probability of playing for the same characters will decrease to 1/200 or even less. At first glance, the possibility of the same characters to appear in the different teams can look like a game assumption, but, in fact, it carries a meaning. This randomness demonstrates the way people choose parties to conflicts, be it a friendly quarrel or a political confrontation. You can find out general patterns, but the actions of one separate person will be unpredictable and chaotic.

October Night Games concept art: The Count

People’s decisions are influenced by many negligible small factors, which can simply be replaced by a random number generator without spoiling the final result. In any major political conflict that divides society, people of close views may turn out to be enemies, and people with opposed political positions may find themselves on one same side of the barricades. This was sharply manifested during the Maidan in Ukraine when the carriers of “left” and “right” political identities were divided in the most unpredictable way. The “Left for the Maidan” and the “Left against the Maidan” could justify their position by resorting to the same political rhetoric, but with exactly opposite conclusions. We observe the same thing in Great Britain during Brexit – both among the “Leavers ”and among the “Remainers” there are both left and right. Irreconcilable opponents want the same, while people with similar views and identities cannot find the common ground.

Rituals may be different for Changers and Keepers

Political identities and principles are questioned when something truly extraordinary happens: revolution, war, the election of Donald Trump or the possibility of the return of the Ancient Gods. Our game, of course, can hardly be called political in the traditional sense. We don’t try to teach the players “what’s right and what’s wrong”; rather, we want to give them a reason to ask themselves sometime: “why do I think that is right? and do I really think so, or was it just a chain of chaotic coincidences that brought me there?”

Leave a Reply