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Author Topic: [Ganakagok] Best gaming experience at DexCon  (Read 7377 times)
Andrew Morris
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« on: July 20, 2005, 07:26:02 AM »

While I'd love to go into the execution of the new rules, I can't really recall anything in particular that stood out, other than the removal of the village phase. While the previous mechanics for this were painfully convoluted (for an RPG, that is), I still liked the general idea. I didn't actually miss it in play, though, which surprised me a bit.

The two things that stand out the most were the Ganakagok cards and the ease with which the system drew in players.

The Ganakagok cards (Ganakagok Tarot?) added a great deal of color to the game. If I had any artistic talent whatsoever, I'd sit down right now and illustrate a full set of these cards for Bill. The most interesting thing about the cards was how they tended to enhance narration. Much like two opinions synthesized into a cohesive whole is more interesting than a single opinion, the cards forced me to take what I wanted to happen and blend it with what the card showed.

Ganakagok has a high level of "grabbiness," in that once you get your mind around the mechanics (draw, roll, draw, narrate), which doesn't take long at all, you can't help but be engaged -- by the freakin rules! I don't get all rules-fetishy, instead seeing them as the way to get to the interesting stuff, but I was nearly as entertained with the rolling and interpreting as I was with the more role-playing aspect of the game.

As I mentioned in another thread, two random roleplayers happened into the game, and, after adjusting to its style, took off like rockets. It was awesome to watch. I'd been expecting to have to lead them along for most of the game, but they were up and running within 15 minutes of playing (admittedly, there was a half-hour or so of rules explanation beforehand, but still...).

Hopefully, Bill will chime in about about what he thought was most interesting about the game we played, especially in how the revised mechanics played out.

Oh, and if I haven't made it clear, Ganakagok rocks. Hard.
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Bill_White
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« Reply #1 on: July 20, 2005, 08:37:43 AM »

Hopefully, Bill will chime in about about what he thought was most interesting about the game we played, especially in how the revised mechanics played out.

Happily.  I knew the Ganakagok cards were seriously cool when during a playtest game a few months ago, the characters were fighting a polar bear and one player (Max), in order to help out his buddy Jack (whose turn it was, and whose character had been knocked flat on his can and was laying there with the bear looming over him), used his Gift (a Love, or social connection, with a rival hunter who's wooing his sister) to say that the rival hunter interposed himself between the bear and Jack's character.  And the consequence card was "Reflected Image," and Jack got to narrate what it meant, and he said something like, "Well, I guess that because of his actions I sort of see myself in him and I like him more now."  And Max went, "D'oh!" 

And I kept seeing the same sort of thing going on at DEXCON, where people would come up with surprising but "obviously" valid interpretations.  Like you said:  Random noise plus human interpretation equals deep meaning.  But the interpretation can't take place in a vacuum:  it needs a "context of availabilities" to draw upon and articulate.  And that's the role that's played I think by the Village Record, with its social-network mapping of insiders, outsiders, and spirits.  The indeterminacy of the setting (how are the Sun, the Stars, the People, their Ancestors, and the Ancient Ones connected or related to each other?) also helps.

I think part of the fun of the dice mechanics (where the dice you roll determine whether you or somebody else narrates the outcome of the current action, and everyone gets a chance to modify the outcome by moving dice up or down pips by using their "Gifts") is the Calvinball-like quality of having to come up with in-game (i.e., SIS-relevant) justifications for your Gift.  It also keeps the mechanics in contact with the game-world, which really helps.

Of course, sometimes that Calvinball-like quality can become tedious (I think there was a moment like this in the second game on Thursday), but the fix for this I think is at the social contract level (which means, rely on the good sense of players and GMs to modify unfun behavior).

I'm working on revising the events phase rules so that they connect more closely to the rest of the game, involving using good and bad medicine as a currency that can be used to generate die mods and additional dice, as well as the means determine whether the overall fate of the village is happy or tragic.  This is per Rob D. and Judd's suggestions, by the way.  I'm starting to get a little cryptic, but I'll show you what I mean in a little bit.

Bill
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Andrew Morris
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« Reply #2 on: July 20, 2005, 09:57:39 AM »

Oh, good and bad medicine -- that reminds me of one mechanics hiccup (possibly) that cropped up during that session. By the time the other two players had gotten into full swing and were really driving the story, we went into the next phase, and I was the only one who had Good Medicine in Soul, meaning I was the only one who could exert narrative control. The other players looked a bit uncomfortable with this. It seems that characters who are heavily Soul-focused (as mine was) will be in a better position at these changeovers. How'd that work out in other games?
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Bill_White
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« Reply #3 on: July 20, 2005, 10:27:54 AM »

It was still clearly broken in the other games, but we finessed it.  As a result of watching what happened and of people's feedback, here's what I'm leaning towards:

The first thing that happens every turn is we draw two cards as "events"; the first one is "good stuff" and the second is "bad stuff."  We narrate what that means; it's collaborative, in that people can say, "Here's what I think it is," but GM gets to give the nod.  The face value of each card goes into a pool of points, called naturally enough "good medicine" and "bad medicine"  More good medicine than bad?  The village is in pretty good shape.  More bad?  Uh oh.  (Notice that this brings the village phase back in, but in a more qualitative way.)

These two pools of medicine are then available for players to use during their turns.  Need another point to bump up your own dice?  Reduce the good medicine pool by one (or, if you're the GM, spend bad medicine).  Want to roll more dice?  Spend good medicine.

At the end of the turn, everyone has a choice:  dump your accumulated medicine into the village pools, or take it as Gifts and Burdens (on a 1 for 2 basis--get one Gift for every two good medicine you've got, or one Burden for every two bad medicine).

At the end of the game, the final fate of the village will thus be a function of the choices that the players have made as reflected in how good and bad medicine are distributed.

What do you think?

Bill
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Rob Donoghue
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« Reply #4 on: July 20, 2005, 10:37:44 AM »

I'm going to chime in as well and remark that, damn, Ganakagok was the real stand-out game of the con for me.  I had an absolute blast, and I think it struck a really solid balance between open narration and structured progress.  I am seriously nuts for this game.

That said, I'm going to raise one or two nitpicks, and I want my love for the game noted so these don't seem like bitching.

So, I played a Body 5 guy, basically Gilgamesh in his declining years.  I had a great time of it, but two things came out mechanically:

1) 5's are crazy-potent.  Since 6's and 1's don't count towards determining victory, and players win ties, i simply could not loose any Body conflict.  I had fun with that, and basically got to use it as a narrative trump to make things go a certain way, and I think it worked out for the good, but when we got to that last roll and I realized that even if EVERYONE at the table wanted to stop me, they couldn't, it was a little jarring, especially since I'd been plannign to apply all of my accumulated modifiers.  Now, the upside of this is that it helped make the ending a surprise - if I'd been forced to negotiate, I would have been obliged to reveal what I was going to do.  Instead, I had a strogn enough position to play it out according to my sensibilities, and while I think those were satisfying for the table, there was nothing that mandated that it be so.
1a) I mentioned after the game, but I'll restate - I'm terrified by what a 5 Face character could potentially do.
1b) This problem is exacerbated by point 2

2) Nothing put pressure on my weakness.  I took face at 1, with the idea being that he had grown too old and was expected to just die already, but because I (as a narrator) could pitch the flavor of my conflicts, it was easy to keep them in the arena of Body.  I suppose I could have actively played ot my weakness, but I'm just not that good a person. :)  More specifically, since I was already swept up in the story, I wanted to go with my strengths so I could participate more in that story.
2a) If I was a sneaky git, I could easily enough pitch the reverse of my expectations and go for a Face contest, which I would have been guranteed to _lose_, granting me almost as much control over things as the 5 did.

On some level, the ratio of impact between the stats and the other modifiers felt right - much like heroquest modifiers, you could have a LOT of them in play without breaking things.  Saying no 1's, no 5's definately addresses thigns somewhat, but at that point, you're at a 3 step system, which is good and bad.  (heck, you could just say Pick one strenght (which becomes the 4) and one weakness (which becomes the 2) and treat the other two at 3.  As I think about it, that might well be pretty slick, and I mayhave to try it when I try the rules for a Throne War.

Anyway, not jumping too far into theory, just sticking to the things that struck me from play.  Still gettign a mad grin when I think of the game, and that's a darn good sign.

-Rob D.


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Rob Donoghue
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Andrew Morris
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« Reply #5 on: July 20, 2005, 10:45:28 AM »

Bill, I like that mechanic better, but I think I'd prefer maybe a bit more structure. I suck at looking at mechanics and figuring out what they would actually mean in play, though, so take that with a grain of salt.

Rob, 5s are super powerful, but the others can oppose you if they want, as can the GM. They can't stop you from succeeding, but they can turn some of your successes into Burdens. As to deciding which of your stats would come into play, I didn't really see any of that. I had some pretty low stats, which did come into play, because of the nature of certain conflicts, especially conflicts driven by other players.
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Rob Donoghue
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« Reply #6 on: July 20, 2005, 11:30:31 AM »

Yeah, but Burdens are only so much of an issue, especially late game (and more, if I have a 5, I can pretty much ignore them anyway by continuing to narrate to my strength).  In early game, the GM has incentive to impose burdens, but if the other players are piling onto a guy with a 5 just to maximize his burden count, that suggests that the dynamic at the table is going to go rapidly downhill as things turn into metagame sniping.

At which point, I start pitching into things minimally so the GM can use my huge burden count against the people who gave me those burdens in the first place. :)  And that's just mean, or at least passive aggressive.  Not to say that soemone being an ass can't ruin any game, but I don't think we'd want to get that kind of ball rolling in the first place.

Now, that said, I may have missed or misremembered something, but the only time my actual stat value came into play was when it was my turn, and I had the opportunity to frame the conflict.  Given a clear enough explanation, I could be reasonably certain which stat was appropriate, so it generally took only minimal cleverness to narrate to the point where the conflict in question played to my strengths.  If there was some way my stats (as opposed to my loves, goods etc.) came into play outside of that context, I admit, I missed it entirely.

-Rob D.







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Rob Donoghue
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Bill_White
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« Reply #7 on: July 20, 2005, 12:16:37 PM »

Yah, Rob is right about this:  A player who is sufficiently canny can frame his responses so as to play to his strengths.  But sometimes that's not possible, and that's more often the case when the GM is aggressively framing scenes for players (which I was doing in the case of Andrew's game, mostly because I was trying hard to suck the two new guys in, and less so in the case of Rob's game, because most of the players knew what they wanted and how to get there).  So Andrew is right about what he saw,  since to the extent that you're reacting either to what other characters are doing or what the GM is describing on its own terms, you can be forced into rolling against an attribute that's weak -- and that actually happened quite a bit.

So it's a potential issue when two competing visions of what should happen next come into conflict.  I think the solution may be to say "stats go from 1 to 4," since 1s are interesting both in play (can you get a tie of all gifts and burdens and thus "win"?) and in assigning stats (3 3 2 2?  4 3 2 1?  3 3 3 1?  4 2 2 2?)  This may however just push the problem into the domain of narration rights:  just how much is a person allowed to do with their narration?  Well, the consequence card is somewhat constraining, so it's not completely open.  Again, that may be a social contract issue [read:  I'm going to cop out on that until it shows up as an actual problem].

Oh, and Rob is also correct in this regard:  Your stats don't matter outside your own turn (although your identity does:  the two-word phrase you use to describe yourself  is essentially another gift).  So to the extent that your distribution of stats is consistent with how you describe yourself, that's not a huge problem. 

Other issues:  mana is broken, and ultimately not different enough from lore.  I think I have a fix, though, that involves big pools of medicine, one for each of the various kinds of spirits, that can be drawn upon by any player whose bought access to those pools by taking that kind of mana.  This will have the nice effect of allowing the approaching dawn to be represented by the diminution of the Star medicine pool and the growth of the Sun medicine pool.

Also:  more formal vision quest mechanics I think will be cool, something like letting people draw and hold cards that can be slapped down in place of the current card.  This is something that was raised by a bunch of people, so I think it's worth doing.

Bill
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Andrew Morris
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« Reply #8 on: July 21, 2005, 08:59:06 AM »

Hmm....I don't know about restricting stats to 1-4. Maybe having 1s and 6s count as successes and failures as well as Gifts and Burdens would counter the "problem" of 5s being too powerful. I can't wait for the other changes, though.
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Adam Dray
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« Reply #9 on: July 22, 2005, 10:11:09 AM »

Why not switch to a d8 and forbid 1's and 8's in attributes? That gives you a six-step attribute system.
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Adam Dray / adam@legendary.org
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Andrew Morris
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« Reply #10 on: July 22, 2005, 11:00:50 AM »

While that would solve the issue mechanically, I really like games with d6s, because it's easier to get non-gamers to try it out. And all the funky polyhedral dice just add another layer of "that's weird, and I'm not used to it" to the whole equation. Plus, it's easier to get a bunch of d6s than a bunch of d8s.
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Bill_White
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« Reply #11 on: July 22, 2005, 08:15:42 PM »

I think keeping d6s (or, as most people call them, "dice") is what I want to do, mainly for the reasons Andrew says.  The real issue is the one Rob brings up:  the crazy-potency of 5s.  There's a mirror problem, that of the crazy-impotency of 1s, but it's not quite the same, since while a person with a 1 can win, a person with a 5 can't lose.  It occurs to me that one could do without stats altogether; for any die, 1 = gift, 2-3 = good medicine, 4-5 = bad medicine, 6 = burden.  Doing that would remove a major way in which players express who they think their characters are, but it wouldn't affect the basic mechanics all that much...but that's just a thought experiment.

So, having a 5 in a stat (Body, Mind, Face, or Soul) basically means you will always get to say what happens next when what's at stake has something to do with that stat.  How big a problem is this?  I see three general types of response:

(1)  It's not a problem at all, and can be safely ignored.
(2)  It's kind of a problem, but it can be fixed by warning the GM that he may need to aggressively scene-frame so that the character and the player are challenged (note that I didn't do this with you, Rob:  in fact, there was a moment when I suggested that what was happening was Soul-based but you demurred, saying that what you wanted to be at stake was entirely physical -- "Do they catch me?"  I could have responded, "But we know they're not going to catch you in time, which means what's at stake is whether or not what you're doing is the right thing--and that's Soul."  Should I have done that?  And should I encourage that in the rules write-up?
(3)  It's a huge problem, and should be fixed by some kind of rule for outlawing stats equal to 5.  But Andrew says he'd hate to see that happen.  Why?  What do you lose by not having characters able to take stats of 5? 

I'm still mulling the whole thing over.  Let me know what you think.

Bill
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Andrew Morris
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« Reply #12 on: July 22, 2005, 09:08:11 PM »

(3)  It's a huge problem, and should be fixed by some kind of rule for outlawing stats equal to 5.  But Andrew says he'd hate to see that happen.  Why?  What do you lose by not having characters able to take stats of 5?

Eh..."hate" is probably too strong. It does seem to cut down on choice in character customization, though. This is a problem I'm currently dealing with in my game, so I might just  be oversensitive to it.
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Ben Lehman
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« Reply #13 on: July 23, 2005, 04:25:58 AM »

It occurs to me that one could do without stats altogether; for any die, 1 = gift, 2-3 = good medicine, 4-5 = bad medicine, 6 = burden.  Doing that would remove a major way in which players express who they think their characters are, but it wouldn't affect the basic mechanics all that much...but that's just a thought experiment.


I am wholeheartedly into this suggestion, honestly.

yrs--
--Ben
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Shawn De Arment
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« Reply #14 on: July 24, 2005, 05:18:28 AM »

First off, I love Ganakagok. I happily played it twice at Dexcon, first as the Crazy Fisherman and second as the Worried Elder.

The Inuit Tarot really add to the game. The way they have 3 different pieces of information to work off of (name, noun phrase, and verb phrase) makes them easy to apply.

On the problem of stats of 5, I didn't have a problem with it in the game we played. This was partly because he didn't kill the child or mother. If he had, I would have been perturbed. I think that a conflict that can't be lost isn't really a conflict. I would suggest that you use your idea of
Quote
1 = gift, 2-3 = good medicine, 4-5 = bad medicine, 6 = burden
for your target numbers, and use the stats for something else.

Two ideas come immediately to my mind. The stats could be the number of dice that could be re-rolled before applying gifts and burdens. They could also represent the number of dice that are fixed and could not be altered by applying gifts and burdens. Heck, they could represent both re-rolls and fixed dice. A stat of 0 would be less weak, and 5 would not be invincible. You would probably have to lower the total number divided between the stats to something like 7, and make the stats range from 0 to 5. I'm sure there are many other ways you could integrate stats with your mechanics.
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