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Author Topic: Foolish Samurai! (a new Mountain Witch playtest)  (Read 17042 times)
Rob MacDougall
Member

Posts: 160


« on: November 13, 2004, 02:33:47 PM »

Our gaming group played The Mountain Witch last night, using the beta playtest rules. Thanks, Tim, for the game, and thanks Jeff, Mike, Jeremiah, Jessica, and Bryant for trusting me with your evening and for entertaining me so thoroughly. I had a very good time as GM, and I think the other players did too.

I say “think,” because the initial reaction seemed great: people were way into the game during play, and there were a lot of fantastic moments. When play stopped, some people seemed surprised it was so late and that we were stopping. And there were lots of non-specific comments like “that was SO fun” and “that was GREAT!” But then when we got into talking about specifics, some criticisms of the game and the mechanics came up very quickly, and by the time we left maybe half an hour later my immediate post-game high had been deflated, and I feel like the group had talked itself out of liking the game.

On balance, I think our group’s criticisms of the mechanics are very real and worth hearing, but I also think that our initial enthusiasm and excitement were real and valid too. I’ll try and do credit to both here. Finally, there was one HUGE thing that I wish we had done differently, which might have changed everything in the way the game felt and ran -- yet I didn’t realize it until I sat down to write this post. I don’t know if that huge thing was the fault of the rules or of my own hard-wired gamer instincts. (I’ll get to my big mistake below.)

(I hope you're sitting comfortably. This is a long post.)

WHAT WE DID
There were five players, plus me as GM. I sent out an email outlining character generation early in the day, but most of the players created their characters from scratch at the start of the session. This took about an hour, but could have gone faster (we were waiting for one player to arrive). I also spent about two hours that afternoon prepping ideas for the Witch’s fortress and its challenges. I give all this data to point out one thing I really liked about Mountain Witch: it can be played with very little prep, almost like a board game, yet it plays like, or “feels” like, many games with much more intensive preparation (working on backstory, plotting conflicts between characters, and so on). (Plus I could easily reuse my prep with a different or even the same group of players.)

The players drew Fates randomly and picked Zodiac signs by choice. I also had them each pick a color. At the start of the story, they did not know each other’s names, only their colors (the red ronin, the green ronin, the blue ronin, etc.). This was a nod to Reservoir Dogs, but it also seemed Kurosawa-esque: the five samurai, each dressed in one bold color, making their way across the white snow. (In a longer game, we could have used the colors as motifs in character flashbacks a la Hero.) It worked well in functional terms too, since it allowed us to have scenes where the players introduced themselves as trust grew (“Please, call me Goto”) plus it was easier to remember the five colors than five rapidly chosen Japanese names. We had bingo chips in the five colors, so we used those as Trust Points: each player wrote down on their sheet how much trust they had in each other PC, then distributed chips of their own color accordingly. I highly recommend something like this to anyone playing the game.

One other thing I did that was just color, but fun for me, was to narrate little voice-overs between chapters as Yama-Ubu himself, as if the Witch was telling all this as a story to some unseen audience. “This is the story of five masterless dogs who tried to defeat me where an army of thousands had failed...” – that kind of thing. Mainly I did this because I wanted to say things like “foolish samurai!” in the voice of Aku from Samurai Jack, but this was also a way of making the Witch a living character in the players’ minds before the structure of the game allowed him to actually appear. Yama-Ubu’s narration could also be used to expose character secrets to the other players (not the other characters – I wasn’t suggesting that the samurai could hear Yama-Ubu’s narration). Our players didn’t need help doing that, but it’s fun to let the Witch sow dissension among the ranks, and more channels of information are almost always good. Finally, I just really like the idea of the whole story being a tale told by the Witch himself – even if (especially if) he is killed in the end – it raises neat questions about what the moral of the story is and how it all ends.

FATES
With five players, all the Fates but one were in play. I added “Desperately in Love” after reading the other playtest threads. “In Love” worked great: I stipulated that the love had to interfere with the mission in some way, and it absolutely did. The “in love” player decided his purple samurai was a low born warrior, in love with the sister of the blue samurai, a match her family would never allow. They had tried to elope but she had been captured by the Witch. We had great interactions between the purple and blue samurai along these lines even before the blue samurai’s player knew any of this was going on, and it all unfolded into just the sort of melodrama the game is supposed to create.

The Fate that didn’t work well for us was “Your Fears Will Come To Life.” It’s more internal than the others, and it doesn’t generate story or connect with the other PC backstories as readily as the others. Particularly if the player picks a vague kind of fear like “the cold” or “darkness” -- which I think many players will pick if they haven’t seen all the other Fates and how they interconnect the PCs with NPCs and eachother. (Our red samurai player picked the cold as his fear, and I see in other threads another playtest group went with darkness.) I suggest maybe rewording this Fate to encourage more story connection: requiring the fear be a specific person or monster, stipulating “your fear caused you great dishonor in the past” or even something like “through your cowardice, a great wrong was done to one of the other members of your company (though they may not know this was your doing).”

Jeff, the player who had the Fear Fate afterwards said the game might benefit from tying the Fates more tightly together, suggesting the kinds of pre-gen PCs you get in a Paranoia adventure as an example. Having labored over Paranoia pre-gens often, filling them with hooks that get ignored once the shooting starts and clever little ironies that are too often visible only to the GM, I’m inclined to disagree. I think Jeff just got stuck with the dud in the set. I actually think you could run Paranoia very well without pre-gens, using a deck of six open-ended Fates a la Mountain Witch and indeed some variation of Trust Points, then trusting your players to create all the backstory and intrigue anyone needs.

CHAPTERS/SCENES
We didn’t finish a game; I didn’t completely expect to but I did want to get through more “scenes” than we did. I should note here that I found the use of “scene” and “chapter” in the rules confusing.  As the rules are written, Trust is recalibrated after each scene, right? But a “scene” is long, longer than a scene in many movies or games, with maybe ten to twenty conflicts per scene and only four to six scenes in an entire game. Our group, I think, tends to think of scenes as much smaller units. I certainly do. So I actually called scenes “chapters” to avoid confusion. I really like the way the chapters give the game a fixed structure, but the fact that chapters and scenes are almost but not quite equivalent (each game has four chapters and four to six scenes) made me wonder what the point of distinguishing them was.

Anyway, we only got through two chapters, or long scenes in our game. (We did do the Trust distribution at the end of the second chapter as if we were going to keep playing.) I wanted to have more scenes or chapters in our session, with more opportunities for Trust to change, but both times conflicts went on longer than I expected and I had a hard time bringing things to break points.

This is not totally a bad thing. Lots was happening, and I was very happy in terms of how much story we got to in one session. A majority of the Fates were “in play” in an active way by the end of our second chapter and one or two of them were close to being quite satisfyingly resolved. One player (Blue) complained that he couldn’t advance his Revenge Fate much since he and Purple were separated from the other PCs for much of the second chapter, but given the intensity of the interaction in that chapter between Blue and Purple re: Purple’s Fate, I don’t regret the separation. In the next chapter I would surely have reunited the group.

But I do wish we had hustled the combats along quicker. (More on this below.)

BETRAYAL
This was the biggest criticism everyone had with the mechanics: betrayal is too hard. Most of the players had someone they really wanted to screw over, but nobody really did get stabbed in the back in our game.

Trust points are far more effective when aiding someone (+1d6 to their roll) than when betraying someone (+1 to your roll against them). The players all felt it would take far too long to build up the necessary trust to successfully take out a rival, especially since one roll is rarely conclusive.

We expected a game where trust was dangerous and betrayal was easy. In fact, the mechanics seemed to produce a game where the reverse was true. There was little incentive not to increase trust every turn, and even though there was a lot of talk about betrayal, it never seriously happened and didn’t seem that likely to happen in the immediate future.

Some of the players wished they could use Trust Points against other PCs at any time, not just when their character was present and directly opposing them. I don’t know that I agree: this would make Trust Points more meta-, like Paranoia XP’s perversity points, and might discourage actual confrontation between samurai even further. But I would look for ways to make betrayal mechanically more powerful: maybe letting Trust Points give a +2 or +3 or even +1d6 when used for an Opposing Bonus.

MY BIG MISTAKE
OK, I’ve kept you in suspense long enough. Here’s the huge mistake I made in how I ran the game. I think all our problems with the game were affected by this in some way.

Whenever we went into combat, I slipped from fast elegant conflict resolution, where one roll determines a whole scene, to bog standard task resolution, where you roll to hit, roll to hit, roll to hit again and again, chipping away with cumulative wounds until finally someone is taken out.

I can’t believe I did this. I’m down with Sorcerer, Trollbabe, and HeroQuest. I know all about Conflict versus Task Resolution, and I know I prefer the former every time. I was already bored with long drawn out fights back in 1986. I even read the thread where Chris Kubasik warned that the wording of the rules might encourage this to happen when people played. So why, why, why, when we got into combat, did I do exactly that?

We could have narrated every fight being over (not fatal, but over) after just one exchange. Maybe two or three exchanges for the really critical showdowns. Instead we just hacked away for exchanges on end. And 1d6 vs. 1d6 rolls have such a flat distribution, you can roll for a loooong time before a fight becomes decisive. Especially if some fraction of the failures are converted into other kinds of setbacks than –1 wounds. The result was that combat scenes took far longer than any other kind of scene to resolve, that each chapter took longer than I had planned, and a lot of time was spent hacking at zombies and tengu that could have been spent on cool interplayer conflict.

So I’m kicking myself for this screw-up. And I’m marveling at the fact that it happened and that I didn’t even notice it had happened until the next day. But if quick conflict resolution combat is what you want, I implore you to really push that in the text of the game with clear wording and big fat examples. The fact that someone like me, who gets the theory, who vastly prefers quick one-roll resolution to blow-by-blow combat, and who just that day read a thread warning “the wording here may encourage people to fall into blow-by-blow combat” still got stuck in these long drawn out combats with zombies and tengu -- and couldn’t see a way out of them while they were happening – speaks to how easy it is to fall into the standard gamer way of doing things and to how important clear writing and examples and careful terminology are when trying to break those habits.

WHAT I LIKED
Ah, but I don’t want to end on a down note. Because really I did like the game and I think, the complaints above notwithstanding, the players did too.

Everyone said they had fun (one person grudgingly). Two of the players said they’d definitely like to play Mountain Witch again (it’s unlikely to happen anytime soon given the number of games this circle is involved in). Two immediately started talking about how to borrow the Trust Point mechanic, changing Trust to Love, for a romance game they’re starting up. A romance D&D game, I might add. And the only player who said he didn’t want to play Mountain Witch again has said that about every game our Ad Hoc group has played, or at least every one I’ve run, so you can’t take that too personally.

Finally, I think the game impressed me more on the GM side of the table because it did a lot of things elegantly and effortlessly that my group also does in other games, but only through greater effort. I said, way back at the top of this now novel-length email, that the game was low prep but played like it had been carefully plotted.

The Fates came into play elegantly. No particular pressure from the GM or the game rules was required. The character back stories linked up in cool ways that weren’t at all planned but often seemed like they must have been. The simple act of saying “does anybody want to aid?” before each roll is very powerful. Every action, every conflict, had the potential to reveal character and story. Any standard “search for a secret door” or “fight with a fortress mook” roll could suddenly highlight questions of trust and betrayal.

When I pointed this out to the players afterwards, they were inclined to give themselves, and me, credit for this, rather than the game. “Yes, but all our games have interesting backstories and characters that interact in cool ways and conflicts that highlight those things.” Which is true. It’s a great group of gamers. BUT Mountain Witch deserves credit for doing all this incredibly efficiently. Yes, our old Unknown Armies game had great conflicts that highlighted the internal struggles of the characters in rich and symbolic ways, but it took me days and days to prep each session. Yes, our current Age of Paranoia game has a group of complex PCs with secrets and rivalries, but char gen took two months, not forty minutes. This difference may not seem extreme during actual play, but it makes a great difference to how games like this can fit into a gamer’s life.

(We had a similar experience when I ran Trollbabe, by the way. At the end of our session I said, “Wow! Wasn’t that cool how everything just naturally built to a big satisfying climax at the end of the evening and then everything was resolved?” and the players shrugged and essentially said, “That happens in [almost] all your games.” Well, that’s very nice of them to say. But I didn’t have to sweat to do it this time, the game did it for me. Or for us, I should say. That’s a real difference.)

Well, that’s more than anybody needs to read about a game. Thanks again Tim, and thanks again to Jeremiah, Bryant, Jessica, Mike, and Jeff.

Rob
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Bryant
Member

Posts: 51


« Reply #1 on: November 13, 2004, 05:43:07 PM »

Quote from: Rob MacDougall
Whenever we went into combat, I slipped from fast elegant conflict resolution, where one roll determines a whole scene, to bog standard task resolution, where you roll to hit, roll to hit, roll to hit again and again, chipping away with cumulative wounds until finally someone is taken out.


Doh! No wonder it seemed so long...

So my thoughts:

I had a great time. I enjoyed the way the Fates pushed characters together, and I'm very fond of the "do you aid X" mechanism. I also liked the emphasis on making sure every die roll puts something at risk. That was quite strong.

I was not at all worried about betrayal, but I did go into the game fully expecting and wanting to betray people. It seems possible that if you don't want to roleplay betrayal... yeah, there's not much mechanical incentive to do so. But for me that's sort of like wanting to play straight D&D without combat; you can do it, but the system isn't really the right system for that.

I think the +1 to die rolls for each Trust Point spent on betrayal is about enough. Mechanically, the task resolution is a 2d6 "bell curve," put in quotes because 2d6 is not very curvy. From years of experience with Feng Shui, I know that +2 is an enormous advantage. +3 is a ludicrous advantage. I wouldn't have realized that the basic die roll is a curve rather than linear unless I'd learned that lesson from Feng Shui, mind you.

Hm. It might be interesting to be able to spend a Trust Point to roll an extra die when betraying someone, and take the highest. If I wasn't tired and lazy I'd do the math and figure out if that's more of a bonus than a simple +1.

But anyhow, it was a blast to play.
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timfire
Member

Posts: 756


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« Reply #2 on: November 14, 2004, 03:38:53 PM »

Quote from: Rob
I also had them each pick a color... it was easier to remember the five colors than five rapidly chosen Japanese names.

'Tis true. I just wanted to mention that I was thinking of adding an appendix of Japanese names. I'm not even very good with Japanese names. I've had to resort a couple of times to looking up in names in some of my books. I think that kind of appendix would help alot of people.

Quote from: Rob
We had bingo chips in the five colors, so we used those as Trust Points: each player wrote down on their sheet how much trust they had in each other PC, then distributed chips of their own color accordingly.

This is a good idea. I had thought about using poker chips, but I think the 5-color idea is what makes it work.

Quote from: Rob
One other thing I did that was just color, but fun for me, was to narrate little voice-overs between chapters as Yama-Ubu himself, as if the Witch was telling all this as a story to some unseen audience.

Nice. That certainly sounds like alot of fun. It does sound like a sneaky way of sowing dissention without having to frame a scene around it. I bet it also increased the sense of the game as a ghost story or dark fairy tale.

Quote from: Rob
I added “Desperately in Love” after reading the other playtest threads. “In Love” worked great: I stipulated that the love had to interfere with the mission in some way, and it absolutely did.

I glad that one actually got playtested. I included it in a couple of my playtests, but it never got picked. I must say, though, that I'm actually thinking of not included it in the finished game. The problem I have with it is the same that I've always had - I think that the 'love' idea could be covered by the other Fates I already have. For example, the Fate as the purple samurai described it could easily be handled under "True Motives" or "Past Alliegience". What do you think, do you see some use of the "Love" Fate that can't be handled by the other Fates?

The strength of that Fate is that it's very provacative, it's easy to come up with some sort of story to satisfy it. What I'm thinking of doing is writing a section about how to incorporate different ideas and themes into your Fate, and the 'love' idea will definitely be included.

Quote from: Rob
The Fate that didn’t work well for us was “Your Fears Will Come To Life.” It’s more internal than the others, and it doesn’t generate story or connect with the other PC backstories as readily as the others. Particularly if the player picks a vague kind of fear like “the cold” or “darkness”

Interesting. I think the "Fear" Fate is still a good one, but you're right, it's more internal and connecting the Fate with your background or to other PC's isn't as intuitive as the other Fates. I think what I need to do is write some good advice for working the Fate. I think the suggestions you make are good. A specific fear would definitely work better than a vague one.

You know, let me ask - how did the red samurai bring his Fate into play? Did you actually create some event, creature, NPC? The 'cold' is kinda a bad Fear because the cold is so prominent in the setting. However, I think it could still work if the player used it as an excuse to constantly freak out (heh, heh - especially right when the other players need his help).

Quote from: Rob
Jeff, the player who had the Fear Fate afterwards said the game might benefit from tying the Fates more tightly together, suggesting the kinds of pre-gen PCs you get in a Paranoia adventure as an example.

I'm not familiar with Paranoia, so do you mind explaining a bit more what you mean? A number of people have suggested using tighter Fates, but I think it would cut down on the versatility of the Fates. What it would also do is cut down on the degree of player authorship. As it stands now, the Fates are so vague that they are meaningless by themselves. The players have to interpret what they mean, thus the Fate you see in actual play is the player's version of the Fate. If the Fates were tighter, meaning that they didn't need interpretation, then the Fates you would see would be the designer's (my) version of Fates, the players would just be acting them out, rather than creating them themselves.

Quote from: Rob
We didn’t finish a game; I didn’t completely expect to but I did want to get through more “scenes” than we did... we only got through two chapters, or long scenes in our game

You know, I've never gotten more than two scenes completed in a single session. How much real time did the scenes take? Whenever I've playtested, the length of a scene seemed to hover around 2 hours (1.5-2.5 hours on average). I'm going to note this in the text.

Quote from: Rob
I should note here that I found the use of “scene” and “chapter” in the rules confusing. As the rules are written, Trust is recalibrated after each scene, right? But a “scene” is long, longer than a scene in many movies or games, with maybe ten to twenty conflicts per scene and only four to six scenes in an entire game. Our group, I think, tends to think of scenes as much smaller units. I certainly do. So I actually called scenes “chapters” to avoid confusion.

Now that you mention this, calling them 'scenes' have caused a little confusion. When people hear the word 'scene', I think they do tend to perceive a short unit of time. I think that's one of the things that makes epole think this game is shorter than it really is. Calling them 'chapters' might be a good idea. I'll think about it.

Quote from: Rob
I really like the way the chapters [meaning the informal structure of play --timfire] give the game a fixed structure, but the fact that chapters and scenes are almost but not quite equivalent (each game has four chapters and four to six scenes) made me wonder what the point of distinguishing them was.

I know what you're saying. I'm trying to find a better way of communicating the idea. I think that mentioning the structure does a lot of good. Even if the players don't follow it too closely, it preps people's expectations.

Quote from: Rob
I wanted to have more scenes or chapters in our session, with more opportunities for Trust to change, but both times conflicts went on longer than I expected and I had a hard time bringing things to break points.

You know, I don't believe the GM should really push for a break point. The drama in this game is really player created. I think it works well for the GM to just keeping running things until he feels a natural break point has 'happened'. If nothing thematically/dramatically has happened, why cut the scene? It sounds like that's what happened in your game, I'm just trying to encourage you to not worry about how long a scene takes and just let things happen naturally.

Quote from: Rob
Lots was happening, and I was very happy in terms of how much story we got to in one session. A majority of the Fates were “in play” in an active way by the end of our second chapter and one or two of them were close to being quite satisfyingly resolved. One player (Blue) complained that he couldn’t advance his Revenge Fate much since he and Purple were separated from the other PCs for much of the second chapter, but given the intensity of the interaction in that chapter between Blue and Purple re: Purple’s Fate, I don’t regret the separation. In the next chapter I would surely have reunited the group.

I just thought I would say, I love not resolving things. I like just setting up conflicts and then letting those conflicts simmer for a while. In my 'ideal' game, the players would just heap conflict on conflict on each other, and then just wait until the last scene to dramatically resolve things.

Quote from: Rob
This was the biggest criticism everyone had with the mechanics: betrayal is too hard. Most of the players had someone they really wanted to screw over, but nobody really did get stabbed in the back in our game.

Hmm, here's my logic for why Betraying works the way it does, and its mostly for thematic reasons. I think Betraying should be expensive because I don't see the thematic significance in someone being 'betrayed' by someone they don't trust. Betraying has its most thematic significance when the betrayer is a close friend of the betrayed. I also don't want Betraying to happen too often. I believe in a game where everyone is stabbing everyone in the back all the time, that betrayal wil lose its thematic & emotional impact. I believe Betrayal has its most impact when it only happens once or twice. Also, I want Betrayal to destroy trust mechanically. Speaking thematically, a single act of betrayal wipes out a person's faith in the betrayer. I want this reflected in the mechanics. I think that at one time I considered making Betraying cost 1 point, and you would get a modifer equal to your Trust level. But I didn't think it made sense to allow someone to 'betray' someone over and over and over again.

Anyway, let's also look at the numbers. Making Betrayal a flat bonus, rather than an extra die ala Aiding, guarrentees higher numbers. Mathematically, a 1d6 adds an 'average' of 3.5 per roll. True, you can roll a 6, but you can also roll a 1. Aiding (rolling an extra die) is inconsistant. Betraying gives you a more consistant effect on resolution that's in direct proportion to the amount of Trust you spend. A bonus +4 guarrentees a minimum roll of 5. Now, that's a hefty bonus, and if you start as ally Zodiacs, you can be at Trust:4 by the second scene. If you make it to Trust: 5, that gives you a +5. Think about that. All you have to do is tie the physical roll (58%) and you'll take someone out.

But this thread has gotten me thinking a bit. I believe the Betraying Bonus is good. But what I've started worrying is that the Betraying bonus might be downgraded by a third PC's Aiding die. That could potentially cancel out the Betrayal. I wonder if it's a good thing to say that noone can Aid a character's that's being 'Betrayed'? Should they also be restricted from Buying Narration (probably not)?

I also want to point out the pattern that emerges from this mechanic - because it takes time to build Trust, this mechanic encourages players to wait until one of the last scenes to make the Betrayal. I consider this a good thing, I think it helps the thematic impact of the act.

Quote from: Rob
Here’s the huge mistake I made in how I ran the game... Whenever we went into combat, I slipped from fast elegant conflict resolution, where one roll determines a whole scene, to bog standard task resolution, where you roll to hit, roll to hit, roll to hit again and again, chipping away with cumulative wounds until finally someone is taken out.

Well, that's not a huge mistake, it's how I usually run things. I, personally, like having to roll a couple times before killing someone. But I admit that it can bog down combat, as it has happened at times in all of my playtests. One thing to remember is if players really want to end a conflict - any conflict - all they have to do you is join together and aid one another. 3 people working together will almost certainly kill any conflict. (2 people won't always do it, but with 4 people you might as well not even roll.) But it's OK if the scope of a roll changes a bit from group to group. (I should probably add a section about he granuity of combat.)

Another tip is try and do things that aren't strictly attacking/ defending. As the GM, you can have monsters try and pin a hero, or try and run for reinforcements, that kind of thing. As long as you stay away from "I hit, you hit", even a long fight can still be interesting. Another tip is never outnumber the heros. If the heros have the advantage in numbers, the battle may still  hold the threat of damage, but its unlikely that a fight will last that long. (You can also split the monster's attack, forcing the heros to decide who's going to help/Aid who.)

Let me ask, how many rolls were you making to finish a fight? In my last playtest, most of our fights took 2-4 rolls, with a couple that lasted 5-6. Also let me ask, were peoiple aiding each other? My group pick it up pretty fast that un-Aided fights were going to last a long time. A couple of times, I Aided someone just because I wanted to end the fight.

Quote from: Rob
Every action, every conflict, had the potential to reveal character and story. Any standard “search for a secret door” or “fight with a fortress mook” roll could suddenly highlight questions of trust and betrayal.

Yeah, this is something I really like about it.

Quote from: Rob
When I pointed this out to the players afterwards, they were inclined to give themselves, and me, credit for this, rather than the game... BUT Mountain Witch deserves credit for doing all this incredibly efficiently. Yes, our old Unknown Armies game had great conflicts that highlighted the internal struggles of the characters in rich and symbolic ways, but it took me days and days to prep each session. Yes, our current Age of Paranoia game has a group of complex PCs with secrets and rivalries, but char gen took two months, not forty minutes. This difference may not seem extreme during actual play, but it makes a great difference to how games like this can fit into a gamer’s life.

Thanks alot, that'ss a great compliment!
_____________________________

Quote from: Bryant
I was not at all worried about betrayal, but I did go into the game fully expecting and wanting to betray people. It seems possible that if you don't want to roleplay betrayal... yeah, there's not much mechanical incentive to do so.

Yeah, this is how I feel. I disagree that there's no incentive not to trust (just wait until a character has Trust:5), but I do recognize that the biggest reason for not trusting is simply thematic. I think Trust more than anything is a great thematic tool.
_____________________________

Thanks guys so much for the write-ups! This has really help me focus on the issue s that i need to cover in the text!
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--Timothy Walters Kleinert
jeffwik
Member

Posts: 6


« Reply #3 on: November 15, 2004, 07:28:46 AM »

I was the Red Samurai.  

1.  My fear of ice and snow -- see, originally I saw the character as sort of an academic/mathematician/economist/numerologist/astrologer type, able to reason his way out of things, and therefore terrified by blizzards and such on accout of there's no arguing or reasoning with weather -- ended up being a mere "ice! why did it have to be ice?!" minor aside kind of thing.  If I had it to do over again, I'd have come up with something more directly involving the other samurai, but I didn't have a lot to go on.

2.  Maybe it was the way Rob was adjucating the rules, but even three samurai working together still took, what, four or five sets of die rolls to defeat one ice monster?  This is also why we thought betrayal needed to be beefed up -- it provides a bonus to only one die roll, and multiple die rolls seem to be needed to resolve an encounter.

3.  Prepackaged Paranoia adventures used to have their pregenerated characters with all these interrelating hooks.  Like, one character had been demoted because he was blamed for another character's screwup that resulted in the maiming of a third character.  It was usually pretty intricate and no one character had the full skivvy on the backstory (which in practice meant it was, as with so much of prepackages Paranoia adventures, basically just something for the GM to laugh at).  Going to this extreme would be too far, but I really liked the way that the Purple Samurai (Desperately in Love) was able to tie his Fate in with the Blue Samurai's backstory.  Some guidelines for Dark Fate interpretation in this way would be very helpful.
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timfire
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Posts: 756


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« Reply #4 on: November 15, 2004, 08:26:54 AM »

Quote from: jeffwik
1.  My fear of ice and snow -- see, originally I saw the character as sort of an academic/mathematician/economist/numerologist/astrologer type, able to reason his way out of things, and therefore terrified by blizzards and such on accout of there's no arguing or reasoning with weather -- ended up being a mere "ice! why did it have to be ice?!" minor aside kind of thing.  If I had it to do over again, I'd have come up with something more directly involving the other samurai, but I didn't have a lot to go on.

Nice to hear from you, Jeff!

I just want to say, I don't believe the Fates have to directly involve the other samurai, but the Fates need to affect the others. For example, in my last playtest, one of the characters had the 'Pact' Fate. The Pact ended up having nothing to do with any of the characters. The character showed up, gave the Witch an object that he had promised, and the Witch granted him the life of his rival. But at that point, the character had a choice. He could stay with the Witch and collect his prize, or he could side with the other PC's. This didn't directly affect us other characters, but it did cause alot of tension. Noone was sure whether to trust him. He constantly helped us out, but at the same time he had this Pact. Had any of the players wanted to, this tension would have been a great excuse for some sort of action against the character. But we all ended up just letting this tension simmer until the final scene.

A Fate that does nothing but cause tension is still good, IMO, as long as it causes real tension.

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2. Maybe it was the way Rob was adjucating the rules, but even three samurai working together still took, what, four or five sets of die rolls to defeat one ice monster?  This is also why we thought betrayal needed to be beefed up -- it provides a bonus to only one die roll, and multiple die rolls seem to be needed to resolve an encounter.

How tough was the monster? Did Rob adhere to the Weak (Regular Succes), Able (Critical Success), Strong (Double Success) rule? Most of my monsters are Weak, with a few that are Able. Strong monsters definitely are kinda hard, and I usually try to only throw one or two at the party at a time.

Each Aiding samurai added 1d6 to the roll, right? So with 3 PC's aiding each other, the ice monster conflict should have been 1d6 vs. 3d6, right? Even if you needed to win by a margin of 5, I would have been surprised if the conflict lasted more than 2 rolls. 1d6 vs. 2d6 (just one extra aiding PC) isn't a huge advantage, but 1d6 vs. 3d6 is a pretty big advantage.

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3.  Prepackaged Paranoia adventures used to have their pregenerated characters with all these interrelating hooks.

Oh, I see now. I definitely plan on writing some better advice for interpretaing Fates.

Thanks! All of these comments are great, they're helping me out alot.
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Bryant
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« Reply #5 on: November 15, 2004, 12:07:39 PM »

Quote from: timfire
How tough was the monster? Did Rob adhere to the Weak (Regular Succes), Able (Critical Success), Strong (Double Success) rule? Most of my monsters are Weak, with a few that are Able. Strong monsters definitely are kinda hard, and I usually try to only throw one or two at the party at a time.

Each Aiding samurai added 1d6 to the roll, right? So with 3 PC's aiding each other, the ice monster conflict should have been 1d6 vs. 3d6, right? Even if you needed to win by a margin of 5, I would have been surprised if the conflict lasted more than 2 rolls. 1d6 vs. 2d6 (just one extra aiding PC) isn't a huge advantage, but 1d6 vs. 3d6 is a pretty big advantage.


Hm, I'm not sure he did adhere to that rule. (Rob, did you?) I didn't notice. Also... aha. OK, so perhaps this was another slowing thing: instead of treating a group of tengu as a single Strong monster, he treated them as separate monsters. I don't know how the rules say it should be done, but I've always been a fan of speeding things up by grouping monsters into single rolls. Probably depends on the situation -- fighting two normal monsters (who thus get 2d6) is very different than fighting one strong monster who gets 1d6 but is harder to take down.
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Rob MacDougall
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« Reply #6 on: November 15, 2004, 12:55:52 PM »

Hi, all. I should respond in more detail to Tim's first post, but for now, on the subject of the long fight scenes:

I was following the rules regarding Weak, Able, and Strong monsters. But the "ice monster" was actually the Giant, as described in the rules: a Strong monster that cannot be harmed by normal means. The Red Samurai doused him with burning oil, which I was happy to say counted as abnormal means. There were three samurai fighting him, so they would have been able to take him out in one if they'd all acted in unison,  but there was other stuff going on and they only aided each other some of the time, and at no time did all three samurai add their rolls together using Trust. (In fact, at no time in the game did more than two samurai add their rolls together using Trust.)

But actually, *that* fight was kind of fun. It took maybe four or five exchanges to wrap up, which I was fine with. The fight that seemed to go on forever was between the Purple and Blue samurai and a horde of tengu. Purple and Blue had no trust in each other (or they might have each had one point, but it was quickly spent at the start of the fight and the others were elsewhere (busy with the ice monster). So generally, it was two rolls of 1d6 (take the higher) on their side versus three rolls of 1d6 (take the higher) for the tengu.

At first it was fun: there was a lovely subscene in the midst of the fight with Yuki-Onna posing as Blue's sister / Purple's beloved and sapping his will. (As in HeroQuest and the like, the very abstract damage system allows all sorts of cool subtle "attacks": Yuki-Onna sang a sad song which laid heavy on the Purple Samurai's heart; I treated this as any other conflict, resulting in a -1 "wound" to the Purple Samurai.) But once that was resolved, the tengu hacking kept going and going, and everyone seemed to fall into the "gotta keep rolling til this is over" mindset. I don't blame the rules for this--it's just a mystifying thing that sometimes happens. Why didn't the players just retreat? Why didn't I find some way to end it? Why didn't someone just die? (I actually think one or the other samurai would have been Taken Out in just one or two more rolls, but one of the other three players finally stepped in to buy narration and offered a way out.)

I also could have ended the fight scene quicker if I'd just been more ruthless in applying wounds to the PCs. So some of their failures were converted into failures like "You don't make it to the ledge" without applying a -1 penalty. If I'd hit them with a -1 wound every time, the fight probably would have been over quicker.

All of which provides a nice object lesson in the power of Trust and teamwork: the Giant, which I thought would be a big challenging fight, went down relatively quickly and easily in the face of 3 semi-cooperating samurai (and might have gone down in one round if they'd really pulled together). A lousy bunch of tengu proved nigh-insurmountable for 2 non-trusting samurai, and probably could have taken them both out if I'd been applying penalties strictly and firmly.

The more I think about that long fight scene, the less I think it had to do with the rules, and the more I think it was just a mutual failure of communication and imagination. Maybe the Purple and Blue players wanted something to happen that wasn't happening; maybe people were waiting for me to advance the plot in some way while I was waiting for them. I probably exaggerated when I called it a "huge mistake", but I do wish I'd run it differently. It might not have colored our verdict on the game so strongly if it hadn't been the final scene of the night.

Rob
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timfire
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« Reply #7 on: November 15, 2004, 01:37:59 PM »

Quote from: Rob
All of which provides a nice object lesson in the power of Trust and teamwork: the Giant, which I thought would be a big challenging fight, went down relatively quickly and easily in the face of 3 semi-cooperating samurai (and might have gone down in one round if they'd really pulled together). A lousy bunch of tengu proved nigh-insurmountable for 2 non-trusting samurai, and probably could have taken them both out if I'd been applying penalties strictly and firmly.

Ahh, OK, I see what happened. Yeah, that's just the way the game works. If you want anything to get done, you have to use Trust. 2x1d6 vs. 3x1d6? Yeah, I bet the that took forever. You probably got nothing but Partial  & Mixed Successes all the time.

In my re-write, I'm going to clearly say that combat has the potential drag if people don't use Trust.
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Jere
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« Reply #8 on: November 16, 2004, 08:32:07 AM »

Quote from: Rob MacDougall
But once that was resolved, the tengu hacking kept going and going, and everyone seemed to fall into the "gotta keep rolling til this is over" mindset. I don't blame the rules for this--it's just a mystifying thing that sometimes happens. Why didn't the players just retreat? Why didn't I find some way to end it? Why didn't someone just die? (I actually think one or the other samurai would have been Taken Out in just one or two more rolls, but one of the other three players finally stepped in to buy narration and offered a way out.)


Couldn't retreat. We failed those rolls, constantly.  Retreat was treated the same as any combat roll, making it difficult (if not impossible) to do in that situation. Just like killing the Tengu was impossible.

Jere
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Jere
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« Reply #9 on: November 16, 2004, 08:35:11 AM »

Quote from: Rob MacDougall
The more I think about that long fight scene, the less I think it had to do with the rules, and the more I think it was just a mutual failure of communication and imagination. Maybe the Purple and Blue players wanted something to happen that wasn't happening; maybe people were waiting for me to advance the plot in some way while I was waiting for them. I probably exaggerated when I called it a "huge mistake", but I do wish I'd run it differently. It might not have colored our verdict on the game so strongly if it hadn't been the final scene of the night.


I think it had to do a lot with the rules. Blue and Purple actually were some of the mroe trusting samurai out there (both were at max on trust given their starting trust), but both had spent it all on the witch before we got to the second fight/

Jere
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timfire
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« Reply #10 on: November 16, 2004, 09:36:04 AM »

Quote from: Jere
I think it had to do a lot with the rules.

Thanks for chiming in!

I've done alot of thinking in regard to this thread. I really appreciate all the comments, and I've been taking them very seriously.

My response to this is that it is both a yes and a no.

First the yes... Yes that's the way the mechanics work. It can be very hard to kill something when you don't have or don't use trust. Even a "let's run away" roll won't work. Also, because of the degrees of success, fights without Trust won't be very decisive. I acknowledge this. In my first playtest of the game, I had this long drawn out scene/conflict/battle involving a bunch of Oni guarding the gate and an awakening giant. I don't know how long this went on for. (It wasn't too boring, it just took a long time.) But the thing was, none of the players were using Trust. They hadn't really noticed that they could Aid. So I finally said, "You know, you could try Aiding this time." While they had only gotten Partial and mixed Successes up to that point, on that roll they won by a margin of 9. They made a second roll, again Aiding, and were able to end the conflict.

Conflicts can be very tough or very easy, depending on Trust. But I don't know that there's any way around this. The system has a very delicate balance. It works because Trust has such a strong effect on resolution. If I made it easier to end conflicts without Trust, then Trust would lose its power and the system would fall apart. The point to the game is that you don't want to trust, but have to.

But here's the no... If you recognize that this is just the way the system works, you can plan for it and work around it. I think the system is a little deceiving. It's alot harder to kill things than it first appears, so fights work better if the fight is easy. Also, because everyone's playing kick-ass characters, its easy to think that you're going to spend most of the game kicking ass. But that's not what the game is about. The game is about building tension through PC interaction.

This, actually, is where fights come in. The point to a fight is to create an oportunity for character interaction. Fights are good because since they hold the threat of damage, a fight can heighten the tension between characters in a way that non-combat conflicts won't. Is Kajiwara going to help Sonjo, even though Sonjo didn't help him earlier? There's something about Muso I don't like, but when I needed him, he put his neck on the line for me...

So here's the practical advice for later: Make fights easy, or rather, just don't make them hard. I wouldn't outnumber the heros. I think that giving the heros a 1 person advange works well for a generic fight. You can go tougher on them if they lots of trust. If they don't have trust, go a little easier.

So yeah... the system does have potential to bog down in combat (is there any way to fix this? I don't know...), but knowing that, you can easily work around it.

Thanks again!
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #11 on: November 16, 2004, 10:16:35 AM »

Hello,

I suggest an alternate approach, Tim - which is actually to defeat, injure, and possibly kill player-characters. This is done even with weak foes by ganging up on the player-characters. If the players can't get it together to fight the foes using Trust, then eventually they'll get hammered - beaten, wounded, imprisoned, and possibly killed.

I did this a lot to you guys during play, and that's why y'all spent a lot of time hanging from hooks in tengu larders, getting dragged off by giant spiders, and so on. It wasn't until people started using Trust that you would "get places."

This wasn't system-tweaking or cunning outcome-narration on my part, just using the mechanics. I think I'd advise any Mountain Witch GM not to be a weenie - really hurt those characters, really kill them (I did try, but you guys got Trust-y at the right moments).

You once mentioned to me that an early playtest-group got all Gamist on you and ramped up their Trust, thus remaining invulnerable, especially since they simply ignored their Dark Fates. I suggest that you had not yet processed that the Scene is over only when you, the GM, say it's over, and also to consider our suggestion that Scenes cannot be over unless player-characters have brought in something to do with their Fates.

Given those two points, when a group tries to do this, all the GM does is continue the existing scene, conflict after conflict, and sooner or later all the Trust will be spent, and then, one more gang-up by a bunch of even weenie foes will wound and possibly kill one or more characters.

"Sorry guys, I couldn't close the Scene - you just didn't bring in your Fates."

So if they fail to use Trust for added-value rolls, they get wounded and/or killed. If they abuse Trust (meaning, without bringing in the adversity of the game as well), then they get wounded and/or killed. Makes perfect sense to me.

Best,
Ron
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Bryant
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« Reply #12 on: November 16, 2004, 10:35:04 AM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
I suggest an alternate approach, Tim - which is actually to defeat, injure, and possibly kill player-characters. This is done even with weak foes by ganging up on the player-characters. If the players can't get it together to fight the foes using Trust, then eventually they'll get hammered - beaten, wounded, imprisoned, and possibly killed.


I'd agree. This was what I noticed during our session as well -- I thought Rob simply wasn't mean enough. The two samurai off by themselves didn't cooperate or Trust enough, and they should probably have been slaughtered or imprisoned as a result.

This is very harsh but it's a pretty harsh game! And impending death makes the necessity for Trust very clear.
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Rob MacDougall
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« Reply #13 on: November 16, 2004, 12:17:59 PM »

Quote from: Bryant
I'd agree. This was what I noticed during our session as well -- I thought Rob simply wasn't mean enough. The two samurai off by themselves didn't cooperate or Trust enough, and they should probably have been slaughtered or imprisoned as a result.


Yeah, I'll cop guilty to that. I actually thought one of the samurai should die there (if only because the rules for dead samurai are pretty neat), or at least get Taken Out, but I was probably restrained by a fear that "if I kill them, they won't like the game."

I would think that the tougher the opposition, the more the game will push players towards trust and discourage betrayal.* You can decide for yourself whether that is a bug or a feature.

(*Unless, I suppose, the GM laid the opposition on heavy but also dangled out opportunities for individual PCs to save their skins, if only temporarily, by betraying their fellows.)

I'd really like to play again and do differently all the things I didn't like last time around.

Rob
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Jere
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« Reply #14 on: November 17, 2004, 04:06:29 AM »

Quote from: Bryant
I'd agree. This was what I noticed during our session as well -- I thought Rob simply wasn't mean enough. The two samurai off by themselves didn't cooperate or Trust enough, and they should probably have been slaughtered or imprisoned as a result.


This a radical difference in perspective. Start with 2 trust each (maximum possible, start with 1 due to zodiac, bump up by 1 for chapter end). Spent all 4 trust in this scene.

Blue spent 1 trust getting Purple to the caste, even if he was a little suspicious. Then he spent another trust freeing Purple from the witch.

Purple spent his two on lue uring all that damn tengu stuff.

The players did what they were supposed to do (and were even on the road to resolving their trust/betrayal issue in favor of trust, somethng the game doesn't seem t allow, which is another discussion). The rules, nd their interpretation, penalized them for that.

Thus the rules are at fault and don't do what they set out to model. Now I understand that Rob didn't do a great job interpretating some of the rules (which points me t flaws in presentation), but  still think fundamentally that this game does not succed as a game of trust and betrayal amongst kick-ass samurai.
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