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Author Topic: [Contenders] Ronnies feedback  (Read 3698 times)
Ron Edwards
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« on: November 02, 2005, 06:36:24 AM »

Here's one of the top two Ronnies this time, along with 3:16. The key question is whether it's just a MLWM ripoff. Which I suspect is about as far as many readers got, without realizing that it was a question rather than a conclusion.

My answer is, "No, it's not." MLWM is based on a central villain, and the characters begin attached to him, gradually separating off from him to varying degrees, until one of them is able to defy him, at which point at least one other character, sometimes all, piles on as well, and the villain is killed. The themes typically involve the lines over which a minion should not have gone, and love as a redemptive power. Contenders is almost the reverse - separate characters whose relationships become more and more problematic, spiralling inward to varying degrees for combative showdowns. There are no blanket scores like Fear/Reason. Instead of love and so on freeing the characters from their dysfunctional, conflict-ridden relationship with the Master, the game relies on violence and endurance as a way to achieve love and freedeom. Thematically, it's in another universe.

Mechanically, the fights are not necessarily climactic, but rather fuel the social stuff like relationships, money, and so on. I think this is a boxing drama game rather than a tactical fighting game. I also think that it benefits from being rather "open" in terms of what can happen. Is every player-character boxer necessarily the rival of another player-character boxer? No, but that can happen. Is every player-character boxer a good guy? No, but that can happen. And so on. Despite the strongly defined scene structure, it doesn't have a fixed story structure, either per character or overall, with the exception of the Endgame mechanics (problem #1) which I'll talk about in a minute.

It starts looking like a stripped-down version of MLWM. One starting Connection each, one PC boxer each, one NPC boxer each. Everyone has a player-character, and although I'm good with that, I don't see the "no GM" feature as being a good thing (problem #2). That might sound contradictory, but stay with me.

Connection scene = reduce Cash, increase Pain, Hope goes either way. Thug scene = increase cash, Pain goes up or stays the same. Training = reduce Cash, increase Trait for self and NPC. Promotion = who fights whom, # rounds. One may also gamble on fights, too, which apparently seems to have given a reader or two the impression that this is a game about "making money." I simply see that as another sort of dramatic conflict.

Fight scene = increase cash via appearance and purse, increase Rep. I get a little puzzled about how Rep is increased (twice or once? hard to tell).

--
OK, let's talk about the fighting. It's based on match and show. I think they might have a hitchy-twitchy handling time with the dominate mechanic. For one thing, if you want a powerful knock-him-out boxer, then you will discover that you cannot dominate well. Perhaps this is intentional? It does seem very Rocky, just eat the pain and suffer until the cards go your way, then WHAM. Perhaps that's not so bad, say my notes. I found myself more interested in trying it out than in fixing it right there, so that's a good sign. I'm certain that we are talking about playtest-tweaking, not fundamental breakage.

As a guide or theme for that tweaking, I think you will do well to abandon the "we're playing cards against one another" model entirely. Check out Dust Devils, in which poker is central to the Color of resolution, but does not in any way, ever, involve "playing poker" as a means of resolution. Go ahead and use cards for resolution, but don't play cards as part of the game.

Using cards as binary indicators is ... OK. It's pretty minimal compared to the immense potential cards bring to an RPG, though. I don't favor the suit-based approach, which might be, "Oh, my high card is a club, so I guess this is an X action." But something more than just on-off, though.

Dirty Tactics needs revision; as it stands, nothing stops everyone from using it twice, every fight. The solution is very clear: if you use Dirty Tactics and lose the fight, then you lose a point of Reputation.

Burning Hope is cool; Bringing Pain needs to gain Pain automatically, afterwards.
--

All right, back to the big picture. We have these boxers in various social and financial hassles, and I am confident that after two or three scenes each, every one of them will be "situated" in the minds of the players as a dick, a hero, a victim, or whatever, with various degrees of redemption or punishment coming up like an express train. Fights come and go, some of them fairly straightforward, some of them providing key turning points. All this is good.

However ... now we need to talk about problems #1-2 that I hinted at earlier. Basically, what this game needs is the potential, but not a rigid/formalistic dictation, for player-characters' stories to be intersecting. I really do not think that sharing Connections or taking one another as Connections is the answer. That is "too tight." Instead, I suggest that one person, throughout play, be responsible for Crossing (a term from Sex & Sorcery, see the Glossary) throughout scenes. This person might still have a player-character, but he or she also simply makes sure that the various stories occur at the same time and in the same place, and involve the same tertiary NPCs.

This is not the same as Weaving, which would (for example) ensure that Billy's girlfriend is Pete's sister. It's just Crossing, putting the elements into the same SIS and letting players' decisions create tighter story-connections and main-character adversity through play itself.

Another suggestion is not to define the scenes at the outset of each one. Just start scenes with various characters, Trollbabe-style, and then discover the conflicts within them, again, Trollbabe style. Those conflicts, rather than scenes, then become Thug, Connection, Training, etc. Fights will arise out of those very logically, I think.

Endgame needs a completely different trigger, not Reputation. I suggest using the fates of the various Connections instead, in that if a Connection is truly threatened (and the neat thing is that the death/removal of a given Connection might be either good or bad), then the fights become key to resolving them. The term "endgame" then becomes personal per character, more like Nine Worlds, and less like MLWM, which for this game I think is good. I do like the big Hope payoff.

Finally, I think you ought to decide which era or genre for boxing you like best, and write about that, and stick only with that. A game like this benefits greatly from being specific, mainly because readers seem to think it's brilliant and insightful to say "Hey, you could do this in the 80s too!" when it's actually pretty trivial. My personal call would be 1940s U.S., but any will do. Just pick one, though.

Best,
Ron

P.S. Thanks to Ralph Mazza for looking over the game with me and helping to compare it with Red Rain, after the October results were posted.
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Joe J Prince
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« Reply #1 on: November 02, 2005, 08:52:40 AM »

Thanks for the feedback Ron,

I'll go off and digest it in detail.

The key question is whether it's just a MLWM ripoff.

Yeah, struggled a bit with that one myself...

My answer is, "No, it's not."

Phew, that's what I thought. Does this mean I've written a game darker than MLWM? Man my group will never play this!

Finally, I think you ought to decide which era or genre for boxing you like best...My personal call would be 1940s U.S., but any will do.

1940s US may work out really well with some of the artwork I've just got. Should I mention much about the war, or will that divert from the PCs struggles? Maybe wartime Britain would be more edgy...Hmm anyway I'll be back.

Cheers,
JoE
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Graham W
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« Reply #2 on: November 02, 2005, 03:38:21 PM »

A couple of very quick points...

I had the same thought: "Why wouldn't you just use Street Style every time?". It's quite a serious flaw: if I ran this game at a convention, I'd be worried that this flaw would unbalance the game. Ron's suggestion is nice.

On the setting: one of the things I really liked about this game was the suggestion of basing it in South London. It's partly that I'm English, and games that are based in America are a bit of a turn-off. I wouldn't want to run a Vegas boxing game, or a New York boxing game, but I like the idea of running a London boxing game.

So I liked the flexible setting. And the idea that, whatever the time and place, boxing stays exactly the same.

Not very helpful feedback, given what Ron's said. Still, I imagine he knows more about this than me. Congratulations on the game.

Graham
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Joe J Prince
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« Reply #3 on: November 05, 2005, 07:45:05 AM »

Thanks for the feedback Graham & Ron

On the street style (dirty tactics) issue, I'll probably go with Ron's suggestion:

Dirty Tactics needs revision; as it stands, nothing stops everyone from using it twice, every fight. The solution is very clear: if you use Dirty Tactics and lose the fight, then you lose a point of Reputation.
I am toying with some other ideas though, perhaps penalties linked to the narration card, ranging from the current 1VP to instant DQ.

As for the setting, I was thinking along the lines of writing the game with a specific setting in mind and then having a sidebar giving alternative setting ideas.

The pain mechanical tweak makes sense as it guarantees a downside to Bringing the Pain.

Bringing Pain needs to gain Pain automatically, afterwards.


As for problem no.2, no GM, I think Crossing is exactly what I'm looking for. Ideally I'd like all players to participate in Crossing. I'm considering having some sort of card mechanic that triggers a Cross, perhaps drawing a joker or ace.

Another suggestion is not to define the scenes at the outset of each one. Just start scenes with various characters, Trollbabe-style, and then discover the conflicts within them, again, Trollbabe style. Those conflicts, rather than scenes, then become Thug, Connection, Training, etc. Fights will arise out of those very logically, I think.

I like the idea of starting scenes more openly and finding the conflicts through play, it feels more organic.
However, I think it's helpful for beginners to be able to jump straight to the conflicts in clearly defined scenes if they want, as it gives a quick feel of what the game's about. I'd like both options to be outlined in the final game

Endgame needs a completely different trigger, not Reputation. I suggest using the fates of the various Connections instead, in that if a Connection is truly threatened (and the neat thing is that the death/removal of a given Connection might be either good or bad), then the fights become key to resolving them. The term "endgame" then becomes personal per character, more like Nine Worlds, and less like MLWM, which for this game I think is good. I do like the big Hope payoff.


This has given me a real headache I must admit.
As it stands the idea of a boxer getting to Rep 9 is that he finally gets a shot at the big time, a chance to make it. It's a simple mechanic for triggering endgame, but helps create a sense of urgency (although now Rep can decrease too endgame is not as inevitable). The fate of Connections is always decided by final Pain vs Hope. If a Connection can be threatened in other ways then it kind of undermines this.
But, I do really like the idea of Connections being threatened and their survival resting on a fight.

Maybe I could introduce some sort of Threat scene, which could be either set up like a normal scene or only be able to be requested after endgame is triggered. During a Threat scene the player comes up with a Threat to any Connection in play. The next fight undertaken by anyone attached to that Connection determines whether or not the Connection escapes the Threat, with appropriate Pain/Hope modifiers. This may also provide an incentive for players to establish multiple Connections, and provides the possibility of a Contender fighting on with no Connections - winning matches is the only source of Hope in their life now.

In conclusion, I'm looking forward to doing some playtesting over the next few weeks and going from there.

Cheers,

JoE
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: November 05, 2005, 08:02:48 AM »

Hello,

Remember the lesson taught by one of the great examples, in film. Rocky Balboa loses his fight with Apollo. But he saves his relationship.

I think that winning or losing fights should not be causal toward a given Connection, but something about the fight should be.

Best,
Ron
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