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Author Topic: [Universalis] Furry Sixties  (Read 4544 times)
TonyLB
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« on: February 02, 2005, 10:22:10 AM »

So Dreamation was winding down, and Michael gathered us all around for a game of Universalis.  I wish I could remember everyone's name, but I can't.  Here's where we went:

We listed some tenets:[list=1][*]The time is the 20th century[*]Combat is based on emotions rather than strength or tactics[*]All characters are talking animals[*]Dialogue is free[/list:o]Someone set the first scene, stating that the time was during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  I immediately started laughing hysterically, trying to control myself, and wracking my brain for the next pun (so that I could get out ahead of the curve).

Don't see the pun implied there?  Start thinking animal references, because it only gets heavier from here on in.

The setting was the oval office, and Michael introduced JFK (a fox), and statted him up a very little.  I think "Charismatic", at that point, and nothing else.  He did, however, have the most spectacular imitation of JFK's accent and mannerisms, so I gotta give him credit there.  It had me (at least) in stitches every time he opened his mouth.

I had gotten my follow-up pun, so I stole control and added General Holstein, making him Bullheaded.  I also introduced a host of other things to support his plan:  Sending a team of navy seals (my follow up pun) to attack the Bay of Pigs.  The person who'd set the era laughed in a way that confirmed that I had, in fact, guessed the pun he was setting up.  Yay me!

The predictable conflict immediately opened up:  Would the president accept the plan.  He countered with the State Department, and I countered with Herd-unist leanings within State.  The question was, briefly, about whether the president would trust herdy-pinko-scum to deal with Cat-stro.  "He'll eat 'em alive!" Holstein said, in only the first of many "Literal?  Metaphorical?  You be the judge" moments in the game.

The party was thrown, a little bit, by the introduction of General Buck Turgeson (of the drooping antlers).  We had a brief set-to about Horn-ile dysfunction and antler-envy (I'm not proud, I'm just recapping) but eventually it was concluded that the invasion of the Bay of Pigs would not happen.  That's okay, Michael buffed up Holstein with "Respects Chain of Command", and I got a ton of coins from being on the losing side.  I really like the win-win dynamic of Universalis, though (as I'll discuss later) I'm a bit worried about whether it's sufficiently self-moderating.

Anyway, we shuffle down to Cape Canaveral, to introduce John Wren and Alan ("German") Shepherd.  Lovely little scene with them looking out over the ocean, ready to talk about... shit, I don't know, girls?  The death of a fellow test pilot?  Doesn't matter, because nobody else is interested in it.  Another good thing about Universalis.  Folks do not play along with anything that doesn't catch their interest.  Saves loads of dysfunction.

Instead we get Weiner von Braun, dachsund rocket scientist.  He has a mission for... Wren.  Shepherd gets "Envious" and "Good friend" in order to support his reaction.  They're terribly useful later, so remember those.  Anyway, Wren is going up into orbit to arm a circling minefield of nuclear missiles.  Wow!  Space-race ahoy, and our first significant alteration from normal history.  If you don't count, y'know, the fuzzy animals.

A cut-scene to Cuba, to establish Boris (russian agent... bear, of course) and Cat-stro, as well as their dark plan.  They will send the Black Widow (she eats men for breakfast... "Literal?  Metaphorical?  You be the judge") to assassinate Wren, delaying the launch.  Then Yuri Gacowrin will go up and subvert the mine-field.  Great victory for the grazer's paradise!

Right about this time Michael justly complains that he wants to use his JFK accent again, but nobody will give him the chance.  Says I (insightfully, I believe) "Nobody wants him because he's only got one Trait on him... it's not worth drawing him in until you get more bang for your coin spent".

A simultaneous scene in the oval office.  Really clever guy whose name eludes me (who also defined the cuban-missile-crisis era) introduces Bahhhbby Kennedy (sheep, of course) and creates the Kennedy Master Component:  Irresistable to women, Powerful, Wealthy.  Michael buffs out JFK with:  Was in Navy, Lecherous, and (of course) Kennedy.  Suddenly, yeah, Jack and Bahhhbby are looking like people you want (on one side or another) in every single scene.  They know about the plan.  Jack sends Bahhhbby and sone of J. Edgar Whooover's men to protect Wren.

About this time I'm muttering... "Mooonroe?  Monroe... Monrover!  There we go!"  Says Michael:  "The Monroe doctrine?"  Says me:  "Oh please... I just want the right pun if I have to introduce Marilyn."  Michael looks appalled and shakes his head.  Hey man, I'm not the one who added Lecherous to Jack's Traits.

By then we were getting extremely tired, and the con was winding down.  We ran the conflict that had to happen.  Weiner von Braun insisted that Wren get a good night's sleep (so he'd be well rested in the morning).  Shepherd (good friend and envious that he was) lined up to enforce that as a Conflict.  Black Widow (temptress and assassin) lined up against it.  Wren was, if I recall, split... part of him wanted to be responsible, but he was also a womanizing hot-shot, and guys with "The Right Stuff" don't need to be rested for a little orbital insertion to save the free world.

It was looking bad, but Bahhbby came in to take the (metaphoric) bullet for Wren.  With his various Kennedy abilities, his personal Charisma and all that he diverted the Black Widow... the deadly Kennedy mystique was more than her sense of duty could stand.  Besides, he was free range.

And that's about where we left it.  You'd think that the animal references and puns would have gotten old, but at least in the time we played they didn't.  It was a nice restriction, sparking the creativity.


My concern with Universalis, as a system, is that in the hands of people accustomed to collaborative story-telling it has tendencies toward runaway feedback:  You spend five coins to create a character with five traits, then lose a conflict with them, you essentially get those five coins back.  Next time spend five coins, one to buy the character, four to add new abilities to him, and you stand to get nine coins back.  Yes, at some point you start winning, but that just distributes the problem to some other seat at the table.  The overall amount of coins coming out of conflicts only decreases when people take whole swathes of the story and decide not to include them any more.  And that, it strikes me, only happens when people don't have the motivation or imagination to tie everything together.  I certainly didn't see any evidence that it would happen any time soon in our game... we were rolling in coins by the end.  Enough so that I considered removing the "five coin per scene" income as wholly unnecessary.
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CPXB
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« Reply #1 on: February 02, 2005, 03:18:43 PM »

About the whole "winning" thing, one of the people I've played Universalis with did precisely that.  He would only spend coins to win complications to get more coins.

It was only a one-shot, and he didn't like the game, but talking about it with people who do like Universalis, if that sort of thing had continued we would have started making rules gimmicks to eliminate abuses.  Indeed, even in that game the guy wanted to add -- no lie -- "cybernetic body x 10" and I just challenged it outright as being silly.  There was wide support for it and the player, instead, just spent ten coins to get ten extra dice for the complication . . . which if a player tried that, again, I would challenge on the spot unless he could really convince me that the situation merited that many extra dice.

So I guess I'm saying that the rules gimmick system and challenge system easily check players who try to dominate the game economy.  But even truer, I think, is those sorts of players probably will not like Universalis in the first place.
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TonyLB
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« Reply #2 on: February 02, 2005, 03:23:57 PM »

Ummm... isn't that essentially saying that it's socially unacceptable to play according to the rules?

EDIT:  But, more to the point, I'm not talking about people spending 10 coins on cybernetic body.  I'm talking about people having a HUNDRED coins in hand, as the natural outgrowth of a story that they're happily co-creating with the other players.  Scarcity of resources ceases to be an issue at that point.
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Michael S. Miller
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« Reply #3 on: February 02, 2005, 04:00:56 PM »

Tony, thanks for posting this. The story was jumping like a toad on a ... um, never mind.

BTW, the players besides Tony and I were Andrew Morris (indie stalker that he was--everytime I turned around, there he was!), Toby (last name unknown) and Shawn DeLancey (possibly misremembering last name--maybe if I'm wrong enough, he'll post to correct me!). And Shawn actually framed the first scene and created JFK. I just stole Control and breathed life into him, for this generation and for ... um, never mind.

Stray thought: That "dialog is free" rule is part of the culprit with the coin inflation problem. Let's see, I seem to recall at least one coin for each of in that first scene alone that would have been spent on dialog. I think, due to end-of-con weariness, we were also playing a bit fast and loose with paying for events. If you look at the examples in the book, they pay for every little thing.

Of course, I've never played Uni for longer than one session, so I can't say for certain.
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Shawn De Arment
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« Reply #4 on: February 02, 2005, 04:24:41 PM »

I was the allegedly clever guy.

I have played Uni a number of times, and I was impressed with the coherency in this game. Normally in face-to-face games with a new group there is a stumbling around period.

I set the first scene and Tony (the real clever guy) immediately picked up that I was heading for a bay-of-pigs pun. Between pushing the animal puns and Michael's JFK accent, the story seemed to flow easily.

Tony, I donít think you have to worry about Uni in the long run. In the middle of play rules gimmicks can adjust the coin totals if necessary, but I have never seen it get to that point. Generally, rich players just make more stuff (or pay more for the things they buy and do).
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TonyLB
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« Reply #5 on: February 02, 2005, 04:46:38 PM »

I don't think the game suffered from people not paying coins for all the things they defined.  I think some players suffered for it though.

I was as close to utterly scrupulous about paying for things as I could manage.  Because the way I see it, any trait is a potential income source in later conflicts.

If I get to use the trait... great!  Income for me!

If someone else gets to use the trait... great!  They're helping me to tell the story that I set out to tell.
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CPXB
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« Reply #6 on: February 02, 2005, 06:08:50 PM »

Quote from: TonyLB
Ummm... isn't that essentially saying that it's socially unacceptable to play according to the rules?

EDIT:  But, more to the point, I'm not talking about people spending 10 coins on cybernetic body.  I'm talking about people having a HUNDRED coins in hand, as the natural outgrowth of a story that they're happily co-creating with the other players.  Scarcity of resources ceases to be an issue at that point.

Rules gimmicks and challenges are the rules.  ;)

I have never seen that happen and I've played a fair bit of Universalis.  IME, players get slightly embarrassed to have a lot of coins when other people have none.
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CPXB
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« Reply #7 on: February 02, 2005, 06:10:20 PM »

Quote from: Michael S. Miller
Stray thought: That "dialog is free" rule is part of the culprit with the coin inflation problem.

Dialogue is free, anyway.  A person who controls a component can engage in dialogue at any time for free.
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Valamir
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« Reply #8 on: February 02, 2005, 06:54:39 PM »

Ha, hysterical.  That ones going up on the website with my next update.

Re: Coin Inflation, in the long run there are two self balancing mechanism to deal with it in the game before Gimmicks and the like become necessary.

First, if you add alot of Traits to Components in order to generate more Coinsin Complications it also takes more Coins to eliminate a Component from play.  That can soak up a goodly amount of Coins in certain sorts of games.

Second, Challenges tend to naturally get inflated too (IME).  People tend to think in terms of what portion of their Wealth they're willing to commit to winning a Challenge, and if they have 10 Coins in front of them they might be willing to go 2 Coins.  But if they have 100 Coins in front of them they'd be likely to go as high as 20.

Beyond that, the rules recommend altering the starting Coins and Refresh rates to accomodate whether your group tends to pay more or less Coins for a given amount of game statements.  Heck, I don't suggest it outright, but there's nothing that says you can't have a negative refresh rate...

Also some rules that often get overlooked in the heat of the moment in one shot demo / type games are paying Coins to Interupt and Take Control of Components.  If you have a lot of trading off of Components in a scene, alot of Coins can get spent that way.  


Re: Dialog.  In the rules Dialog does cost 1 Coin because its technically an event.  Jack punches Bobby is an Event for 1 Coin.  Jack talks to Bobby is an Event for 1 Coin.  The actual words of the dialog don't cost themselves except for those things that you want to make Fact in the game.  For example if a player were to have Bobby say "no way Jack, I'm not messing with the Black Widow" the sentence is free.  But you could easily buy any of a number of possible Traits related to the statement like "Bobby fears the Black Widow", or "Bobby refused a vital mission", or even "Bobby like to make Jack beg before giving in" etc.
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Tony Irwin
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« Reply #9 on: February 20, 2005, 07:12:14 AM »

That sounds like it was great fun. I was wondering, did the humour ever get in the way of the game?

Also did anyone implement the rules about using their coins to subtract dice from other people's dice pools, or using their coins won in a conflict to subtract the coins other players win in a conflict? It often means that the winner is the only one to come away with coins (and its a very few).

I've found those two rules really purge coin bloat and also add a new intensity to play.

Tony
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TonyLB
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« Reply #10 on: February 20, 2005, 07:21:12 AM »

Those rules sound wholly unfamiliar to me... and since my experience of the rules is only what happened in this game, I'm inclined to think that those rules didn't get taught.
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Valamir
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« Reply #11 on: February 20, 2005, 09:43:04 AM »

Which two?  The two I mentioned above, or Tony Irwin's two.

If Tony's, I'm not entirely surprised.  Both of those rules tend to be among the first to get house ruled away with Gimmicks.  For some people the idea of taking away other's dice before they can earn Coins with them, or just flat out taking away the Coins they've earned seems undesireable.

In practice, however, I find those two rules lead to tighter stories.  Part of that is the removing Coins from play effect which means players, having fewer Coins, have to be more precise with their use.  And part of it is that when you win a Complication it is possible (especially if the bonus Coins are lopsided in favor of the winner) to completely (or nearly so) shut the loser out of the resolution.

While it may not be desireable to do this ALL the time.  At times it helps to ensure that the winner's vision doesn't get diluted in that instance.  It also provides additional motivation for both sides to try to win.  While it is true that the loser can get all of their Coins back and have some narrative authority...the threat that sometimes this might not happen helps keep all players more involved in the Complication.
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TonyLB
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« Reply #12 on: February 20, 2005, 11:41:49 AM »

I was referring to the ones Tony Irwin posted.  I agree with you that they'd make for tighter stories.  My experience is that when people take away the parts of games that they fear will hurt other people's feelings, what they're actually doing is removing the only objective check that could, in fact, be applied without causing hard feelings.  But that's just me.
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