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Author Topic: [The Suburban Crucible] Ronnies feedback  (Read 6677 times)
Ron Edwards
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« on: October 06, 2005, 09:33:13 AM »

Hello,

Thomas E.Robertson's The Suburban Crucible wins a Ronny, and it's the only game to do so that treats women protagonists as human beings, without satire (good, just different) or with the author being craven about being male (bad). I was hoping for more winners like it, but only Darling Grove and January's Frost came close. It's also the single entry in the entire contest which used the terms "suburb" and "girlfriend."

As the text states in the notes at the end, the game is weak regarding the archetypes, and the archetypes are central for play. I'll start my discussion of them a little counter-intuitively, regarding their use at the end of play. Take a look at those endgame epilogues ...

... and you'll see that all of them miss the point. They all make sense as the relevant characters' immediate reactions, not long-term outcomes over the years. Why is this? Ah ha! Because at the moment, you are dealing with Archetypes as a concept in your head, not with the developed characters that real people would be dealing with after hours of intense play.

So that's important: the character "Harry Barton," the father in (let's say) our game of The Surburban Crucible, was constructed from the Father Archetype, but he is Harry, a character - not just the chassis on which he was built. He is certainly fulfilling the Archetype role to our protagonist, structurally and emotionally, but Harry (our character) is also a WWII veteran, a borderline alcoholic, and (unusually for the fifties) a bit of a Lefty, when his boss isn't listening.

See? This is all about the Traits!! Each character has five, and that's a lot - as long as we keep those broad Archetypes intact emotionally, then the traits will also let us know how the family member/friend is a person, not just an Archetype. That will permit play and the endgames to become meaningful, rather than cookie-cutter. (Oh, and five traits is too many, too much opportunity for meaningless or silly stuff - make it three.)

In line with the importance the traits have, the current rules that consensus determines which traits are is allowed during resolution or not is weak. I suggest a resource mechanic, perhaps along the excellent lines laid down by Secrets in Suburbia (via Full Light Full Steam) regarding usage and recharge of traits.

I think that the points tracking Antagonism/Relationship tracking will work well. However, I question whether every damn conflict needs to have every single Antagonist involved as opposition. That seems very forced and boring to me - I like the idea that a given Antagonist may decide to "give" if they want, or perhaps have some other "by" option.

Finally, Endgame should be triggered more interestingly. Instead of just grinding down the points, Antagonist by Antagonist, I suggest that a "make or break" moment can emerge unexpectedly, possibly due to certain dice outcomes, possibly mixed with certain options taken at that moment.

Overall, great game! Count me first in line to try it out. Also, what sort of physical format do you see this getting published in? I strongly suggest that we are not talking about a standard-sized RPG with standard RPG illustrations.

Best,
Ron
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LordSmerf
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« Reply #1 on: October 06, 2005, 10:14:26 AM »

Ron,

Thanks for the feedback, I'm going to take your points in reverse order.

First, the physical object.  Traditional RPG with traditional art?  Already on it!  A few days after I finished this one I realized that I want every single piece of art in this game to be an honest-to-God photograph.  Not sure if I want them in black and white, color, or some interesting combination (i.e. the girlfriend is in color while the rest of the family is black and white).  I'm not yet sure about further formatting plans, but the photograph thing really is important to me...

Surprise endgame.  I can see that as being valuable, but I'm not sure about it at the moment.  On the one hand it does get rid of the grind, allowing players to have some large scale uncertainty (instead of the current small-scale uncertainty of not losing a die roll or something).  On the other hand, it gets rid of the grind, that sense of toil is lessened (though, quite possibly, there's enough left that it's still powerful).  If there is such a surprise endgame, do you see things being such that Antagonists have both Antagonism and Relationship values remaining at the end?  Some sort of adjusted/expanded endgame conditions?

Also, the pivotal endgame scene works for (for example) My Life with Master because there is a single central antagonist.  This is precisely inversed in The Suburban Crucible so I have to ask how you see that working out?  A separate attempt for each Antagonist, or one that goes after them all, or something in between?

On forced antagonism, you say:
Quote
However, I question whether every damn conflict needs to have every single Antagonist involved as opposition. That seems very forced and boring to me - I like the idea that a given Antagonist may decide to "give" if they want, or perhaps have some other "by" option.
Do you mean that there should be scenes where none of the Antagonists engage in antagonistic behavior via the conflict mechanics, or do you mean there should be scenes in which not all of the Antagonists present engage in antagonistic behavoir via the conflict mechanics, or do you mean that there should be scenes in which not all of the Antagonists are present?  If it's the third one then all I can say is "Oh man!  I put something in the rules that made it sound like this wasn't the case!?"  I definitely envision some one-on-one scenes here.  If it's the second one, I think I probably agree with you, though it's clear that the text indicates otherwise, so that'll need some reworking.  If it's the first one, I'm not sure I agree with you (neither am I sure I agree).  On the one hand I really like the pressure involved in making each scene change something between the characters mechanically.  On the other hand it may be too forced, and some breathing room may well be called for.  Playtesting will probably tell on that last one...

On trait usage.  Yeah, the consensus thing is definitely weak and needs help.  I'll look at Secrets of Suburbia and Full Light, Full Steam again, but from what I remember I don't think they're quite what I'm looking for.  I don't envision the Traits on the Antagonists ever helping the Antagonist mechanically.  Further, I don't want any sort of balanced usage for/against the Protagonist with Traits because they are the only way the Protagonist gets to roll any dice while the Antagonist always gets to roll, and starts out rolling quite a few of them.

On having too many Traits.  Yep, it's actually a hold-over from my original text which stated that each player simply assigned one trait to each Antagonist, but this didn't work because it gave the Protagonist more power if there were more players.  So I tossed in a cap, and since I'd been (completely arbitrarily) using 5 for everything else in the game, I used it here too.  A lower number (3 does sound good, playtesting will probably tell), is definitely a good idea.

On archetypes -> characters.  I don't think I entirely get what you're getting at.  I can see your main point, I've got to start understanding archetypes as characters-in-play, but I'm not sure what youre specific suggestion is (unless that's it, that I just need the right perspective).  So, what exactly are you suggesting, if anything, regarding endgame?  Sorry if I'm a bit dense here...

One final note, and this is somewhat personal and (I think) really interesting: I'm not sure if I'll play this game with my local group.  I have this intention with the game that play is serious and digs down deep, and while I have good friends, and I have friends that I roleplay with, I don't know if the group that I roleplay with (or at least all of them) are good enough friends for me to ask them to do this kind of thing with me.  This may be exacerbated by the fact that I'm pretty sure that we'd all kind of look to our attractive black female friend to play the girlfriend, and I'm not sure I have the right to say "Hey, deal with this issue with me!" to her.

Again, thanks for the feedback, and for the contest.  I had a lot of fun doing it, and I'm not done with The Suburban Crucible yet!

Thomas
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LordSmerf
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« Reply #2 on: October 06, 2005, 04:08:12 PM »

Oh, one other thing...
Quote
He is certainly fulfilling the Archetype role to our protagonist, structurally and emotionally, but Harry (our character) is also a WWII veteran, a borderline alcoholic, and (unusually for the fifties) a bit of a Lefty, when his boss isn't listening.
Emphasis added.  Do you see The Suburban Crucible as a game set in the 50's/60's?  Because I see it as a game set right in the modern suburban reality.  It's just interesting to me that there may be these assumptions about when in time the game is set (because, really, both positions are entirely valid)...

Thomas
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: October 07, 2005, 08:46:26 AM »

Hi Thomas!

Quote
Surprise endgame. I can see that as being valuable, but I'm not sure about it at the moment. On the one hand it does get rid of the grind, allowing players to have some large scale uncertainty (instead of the current small-scale uncertainty of not losing a die roll or something). On the other hand, it gets rid of the grind, that sense of toil is lessened (though, quite possibly, there's enough left that it's still powerful). If there is such a surprise endgame, do you see things being such that Antagonists have both Antagonism and Relationship values remaining at the end? Some sort of adjusted/expanded endgame conditions?

1. Just to be clear, I'm talking about Antagonists being treated individually in this sense. So if (for instance) the Mother drops out halfway through due to her suprise-ending, the story still continues in the present-time of play for all the others.

2. The sense of toil will only be lessened if it's triggered too easily. Set up the numbers right and that won't be an issue.

3. Yes, it seems to me that the climax for a given Antagonist might well end with Antagonism and/or Relationship with 0, or with either or both being positive. I don't see this as too much of a problem, especially if the chance for either or both scores to drop to 0 is still there in that scene.

Quote
Also, the pivotal endgame scene works for (for example) My Life with Master because there is a single central antagonist. This is precisely inversed in The Suburban Crucible so I have to ask how you see that working out? A separate attempt for each Antagonist, or one that goes after them all, or something in between?

I think you're extending the comparison with MLWM into the wrong spot. I'm not talking about the pivotal climactic ending scenes during which the Master is killed, I'm talking about the Epilogues, which are individualized and can extend very far into the post-play time frame.

Quote
On archetypes -> characters. I don't think I entirely get what you're getting at. I can see your main point, I've got to start understanding archetypes as characters-in-play, but I'm not sure what youre specific suggestion is (unless that's it, that I just need the right perspective). So, what exactly are you suggesting, if anything, regarding endgame? Sorry if I'm a bit dense here...

Quote
One final note, and this is somewhat personal and (I think) really interesting: I'm not sure if I'll play this game with my local group. I have this intention with the game that play is serious and digs down deep, and while I have good friends, and I have friends that I roleplay with, I don't know if the group that I roleplay with (or at least all of them) are good enough friends for me to ask them to do this kind of thing with me. This may be exacerbated by the fact that I'm pretty sure that we'd all kind of look to our attractive black female friend to play the girlfriend, and I'm not sure I have the right to say "Hey, deal with this issue with me!" to her.

Heh ... you may not have the right to dictate any such statement, but if you self-limit yourself from asking whether she would do so, then you're demonstrating the sort of prejudice your game is criticizing. Harsh words, I know. It might be interesting to see whether your group as a whole, including her, would be interested in playing if the girlfriend-player were one of the white men in the group.

Hey Lisa P! You think Thomas needs a scary and funny kick of encouragement? 'Cause I do ...

Quote
Do you see The Suburban Crucible as a game set in the 50's/60's? Because I see it as a game set right in the modern suburban reality. It's just interesting to me that there may be these assumptions about when in time the game is set (because, really, both positions are entirely valid)...

Regarding the time-setting of play, I wasn't clear about that - I would be most interested in a 50s setting, because I am totally immersed in Cold War stuff at the present, to the point of driving my wife and friends to distraction. It also seems to me that the Archetypes are most obviously realized (i.e. applied to human beings' own perceptions) during that period, but that is probably a result of my own west-coast upbringing. I certainly recognize that the issues of prejudice that you raise in the game are prevalent today, especially among people who would never self-identify as such. With that in mind, I think after all that this game would play best for me in a northeastern, liberal community full of "aware" folks who just happen to overlook the fact that no black or latin families have houses on their blocks, and that all their non-white friends are assimilationist.

Best,
Ron
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LordSmerf
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« Reply #4 on: October 07, 2005, 05:03:57 PM »

Ron,

Okay, I'm with you on Endgame now.  Yeah, I think you're probably right, good call.  Do you have any sort of thoughts on how that could be executed mechanically, or just a suggestion that I figure something out?  That is, does some obvious solution pop into your head because now that I'm thinking about it, I'm not quite sure how to set it up.

I'm still not clear on the rest of your feedback...

Specifically: What do you mean by
Quote
However, I question whether every damn conflict needs to have every single Antagonist involved as opposition. That seems very forced and boring to me - I like the idea that a given Antagonist may decide to "give" if they want, or perhaps have some other "by" option.

Also, I'm not entirely clear on what you're suggesting for archetypes -> characters.  You're dead on the money that I have to start thinking about them as actual nuanced characters, but it seems that you might also be saying something more than that and I'm missing it...

Thomas
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: October 07, 2005, 07:10:55 PM »

Hi Thomas,

OK, first point: maybe I'm just wrong about this to start. If so, let's fix that. At the moment, I am under the impression that given a situation/confrontation/scene, every Antagonist gets to put his or her oar in the water and get a result regarding Relationship and Antagonism. If that's wrong, then well and good. If it's right, however, then I am suggesting that it's too dense. A given conflict or situation should concern one or more Antagonists, but not necessarily all of them.

Second point: I think this will become clearer with playtesting. If a group sets to making up the Antagonists with the right attitude, and if they are really intent on making them people instead of cookie-cutter, Saturday-afternoon-special foils, then all is well. Your Archetype descriptions merely establish the chassis for this process, not the final result or nuanced-character that we see in play.

Since the final scenes (Epilogues really) concern the characters, there's no real way to write them or provide examples for them from the standpoint of the mere Archetypes. Does that make more sense? I think that's why you had trouble with the example epilogues, and I'm saying that's OK.

Best,
Ron
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LordSmerf
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« Reply #6 on: October 07, 2005, 07:27:00 PM »

Ron,

On your first point.  I hadn't intended for all present Antagonists to be required to participate mechanically, but looking back over the text it seems pretty clear that I wrote that they do.  Definitely a good call on this one, that kind of density is, as you say, probably detrimental.

Second point.  Aha!  Now I see what you're saying.  That actually makes a lot of sense.  I hadn't really considered it that way, but it would be like trying to provide example epilogues for MLwM characters.  Sure you could do it, but they probably wouldn't be terribly useful at informing the players what's going on.

Oh, and semi-related.  I had a comment (it's marked in red on my first circulated draft) that re-rolling on ties robs those rolls of some of their *oomph*.  It was suggested that ties go to the Antagonists.  My knee-jerk reaction was "But statistically ties should be very rare!" (Yeah, I know, not really much of a defense), but I've come around to think that it's true: in this instance re-rolling ties seems to be a negative thing.

Thomas
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Ben Lehman
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« Reply #7 on: October 09, 2005, 06:09:34 AM »

Thomas --

For what it's worth, I got from the text as it stands that you're only supposed to roll for each antagonist present in a scene, seperately, as if there were two consecutive scenes.

In terms of recommendations for further design, I would seriously consider discussing the Older Brother in terms of competition / legitimacy / status within the family.  The parents should constantly be saying "well, your older brother ... " and so on.

I think you really got the little sister perfect.

In terms of playtest -- have you considered having your friend play the Father, rather than the Girlfriend?

yrs--
--Ben
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LordSmerf
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« Reply #8 on: October 09, 2005, 05:33:49 PM »

Ben,

Thanks for the feedback.  A comment and a question and then another comment.

The sister, yeah.  I've got a real solid grasp on the sister because, well, I have them.  Being an older brother in actuality gives me (or so I like to think) a pretty solid perspective on how that dynamic can be utilized in play.  Glad you liked it too.

What do you think is added to the game by making the older brother a kind of role-model figure?  I'm a bit hesitant to include such a thing because it seems that that would include another major conflict.  I'm sort of hoping that all the conflict will center around the girlfriend rather than having conflicts springing up all over the place.  That said, there may be something interesting if the girlfriend is merely the catalyst for all sorts of buried issues to rise to the surface.  So, what makes you suggest including that element to the big brother?

For playtesting, I hadn't really thought much about it at all.  I'll probably bring it up eventually and see what everyone thinks...

Thomas
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Ben Lehman
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« Reply #9 on: October 10, 2005, 12:13:26 AM »

So, what makes you suggest including that element to the big brother?

BL>  'cause I have an older brother.

I don't think that's necessarily indicative of a conflict on its own, or that it is anything unhealthy.  But I do think competition / role modelling is a normal part of a healthy relationship between brothers.  Like, it isn't even necessarily on the surface.  For instance, my brother and I are constantly sending each other writing (we're both writers) and there's definitely this element of driving each other to excel.

yrs--
--Ben
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LordSmerf
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« Reply #10 on: October 10, 2005, 09:01:50 AM »

Ben,

I was actually trying to capture something of the role-model/friendly competition thing, so I can definitely see that.  It's good to know that it either wasn't coming across, or that it was coming across as too weak.  Definitely something to look at in the revision.

Thomas
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tygertyger
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« Reply #11 on: October 10, 2005, 08:05:54 PM »

Regarding the time-setting of play, I wasn't clear about that - I would be most interested in a 50s setting, because I am totally immersed in Cold War stuff at the present

An excellent point.  In all of these critiques, we the authors can't afford to make hasty decisions based on the preferences of one person -- not even if that person is the contest sponsor.  Besides, trying to second guess what Ron would like doesn't guarantee that you'll come up with something that Ron would like.  Trying to cater to anyone other than your target audience is probably a bad marketing decision.

That said, I would prefer a modern setting.  We all expect race issues like those in Suburban Crucible to be prevalent in a pre-Civil Rights Movement setting.  But to confront those issues in the world that we live in can be especially powerful.  And those scenes do happen in the modern day, believe me (says the Black man who has had to meet a White girlfriend's family -- and who has caught hell for bringing a White girl home).

Hmmm... that last suggests some interesting play variations.  Any chance of expanding the game to include that kind of switcheroo?
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LordSmerf
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« Reply #12 on: October 10, 2005, 09:29:21 PM »

I totally agree about the modern setting really resonating, especially with me.

As to the switcheroo thing.  Well, I'm not sure, and here's why:

The issues of racism (especially the more subtle form in The Suburban Crucible) are often very closely tied to tradtional gender roles.  Simply stated: the black boyfriend meeting the white girlfriend's family is a totally different story, and it's not one that I know how to work with.  This goes double for the white girlfriend meeting the black boyfriend's family because that's a sub-culture that I just don't have enough experience with.  If people want to play those stories, great!  I just don't know how to make the game support them.  (Suggestions on that would be great, by the way.)

One, other, interesting note, and one that I think is important enough that it's going in the text on this next revision: The Suburban Crucible isn't actually rigged to play homosexual relationships.  The reason for this is that with racism you're dealing with a rejection of the partner by the family, while with homosexuality you're dealing with a rejection of the family member.  That is, with racism it isn't that the son of the family chose a black girl to date, it's that she's black.  With homosexuality it isn't that the partner is male, but that the son of the family chose such a partner.

I know that's not precisely related because I think that mechanically the system that runs The Suburban Crucible will handle any of the combinations of racial tension, but what I'm not sure of is if I'm up to actually writing the supporting material for that or not.

Thomas
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tygertyger
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« Reply #13 on: October 12, 2005, 02:36:26 PM »

The issues of racism (especially the more subtle form in The Suburban Crucible) are often very closely tied to tradtional gender roles.

That's true to a point, but the real issues are economic rather than gender-based.  It just happens that traditional gender roles have strong ties to economics.  The issues of marrying beneath one's station are what really drive racism as it relates to Suburban Crucible.  In the U.S. we have race as an easy way to identify the underclass -- there is, unfortunately, a notable correlation between race and socioeconomic status.  In Europe it's another ball game; hereditary aristocracies have yet to breathe their last, and it's still a scandal for a young man from a "good" family to bring home a working class girl (doubters are free to ask Fergie for confirmation).

Traditional gender roles come into play when you pull the switch.  For a family that expects the man to be the primary (or sole) breadwinner, the Black boyfriend isn't just shock to the system.  His perceived lower earning potential is a threat to their daughter's prosperity (I've dealt with this issue irl).

The potential for scandal doesn't go away, either.  Far too many people whom I've met assume that a White man who is dating a Black woman is only in it for sex.  The same is true of a Black man who's dating a White woman or a White woman who is with a Black man.  Those same people tend to assume that a Black woman who is dating a White man is after his money.  It doesn't help matters that these stereotypes are sometimes true.

However you approach it, the issues mentioned above would all make good subtext for a session of Suburban Crucible.  Playing any character can be spiced up by emphasizing any one of those aspects of racism.  For example, the mother might be concerned that "the little golddigger" is just trying to secure her future by attaching herself to a nice young man.  The father, by contrast, might have no objection to his son sleeping with a Black woman but will raise the roof if the subject of marriage comes up.

I hope that I've given you a start on some additional source material!
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LordSmerf
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« Reply #14 on: October 12, 2005, 03:01:49 PM »

Racism is definitely closely tied to socioeconomics, but I think it's actually more complex than just that.  I think there's also a sense of alien-ness.  That cross-cultural thing where they're just not like you (this is true even of people from the same race who are, for example, from vastly different religious backgrounds).

It's that alien-ness that I really, really want to deal with in The Suburban Crucible.  It's not any sort of real concern that the girlfriend is a gold-digger, or anything like that.  It's the discomfort of being around someone who is not like you.  The reason I want to deal with that here is that it's subtle and insidious.  The family doesn't have a problem with black people, they don't even have a problem with inter-racial relationships.  At least not as ideas.  The tension is all generated when events conspire to make them put their money where their mouths are.

That's what I want to deal with.  Anyone can (and many people do) say that racism is a terrible thing (or poverty, or any other number of social problems), but it's easy to say things.  For me, the tension in The Suburban Crucible comes from the fact that the family says they believe one thing, and even think that it's the right thing to believe, but their actions don't bear that out...

Thomas
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