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Author Topic: [Apocalypse Girl] Ronnies feedback  (Read 11898 times)
Ron Edwards
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« on: December 30, 2005, 11:48:26 AM »

No one can be more surprised than me that apocalypse girl by Sydney Freedberg gets a Low Ronny. I'll be all up-front: I fucking hate the premise. I used to read Sandman, where Death is a cute chick. I read Midnight Sun, where Jesus Christ is a hot chick who does kung fu. Plus there's Buffy Buffy Buffy, from my friends, all the live-long day. "World-weary, deadly, hopeful, cute, scary chick." Gahh, been there, in the first place (and no, the "mundanity" of the girl in the game doesn't fly; still looks the same to me). And now, a bunch of gamers who get to be her, rolling their dice with one hand, with the other beneath the table. Ewww, in the second place.

Technically, I should be judging only the initial 24-hour entry, but threads like [apocalypse girl] Unofficial Ronnies feedback and [apocalypse girl] The full-game playtest report can't help but influence me as well. Bear that in mind, future Ronnies people ... These threads didn't save the game, awards-wise, but they did focus my attention on understanding the entry better than I otherwise would have. That understanding led me to say, "Hey, it does what it does, with my own preferences being irrelevant."

It comes down to this: the content of Apocalypse Girl is clearly a draw, and the design of Apocalypse Girl organizes principles from Capes and Universalis in a powerful way. It's a good example of how powerful potential in both content and design is worth an award. Sydney, it appears that diagram I sent you had a positive impact, eh?

Some points from my reading and the thread-discussions ...

1. I'm not at all concerned about how to narrate taking vs. destroying Engines or the multiple-Engine per character issue. These seem quick and easy. Sydney's comments in the Unofficial Feedback thread all work for me.

2. I agree with Ramidel's solution to using the Gun to create an Engine; i.e., recoil still occurs. I'm a little iffy about reducing the "power of the Gun," which based on my reading at least, seems like a good idea.

3. I agree with Unco Lober's suggestion to detach Engines to the center of the table when their Loyalty drops to 0. I also agree that Engine use cannot be recursive, i.e., add to the Engine's own Power.

4. As a minor idea, it might be interesting only to allow the three entities, World Dragon Girl, ever - but allow any of them to be jointly played by more than one player, treating players' turns as usual.

Sydney, is an updated version available?

Best,
Ron
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #1 on: December 31, 2005, 08:46:33 PM »

I. Niceties

Uh -- thanks, I think.

And, taking a cue from Ben Lehman, this bit, here ("edited for length," as my editors would say)...

No one can be more surprised than me that apocalypse girl gets a Low Ronny. I'll be all up-front: I fucking hate the premise. Gahh. Ewww. But the design of apocalypse girl organizes principles from Capes and Universalis in a powerful way. Its powerful potential in both content and design merits an award.

...this bit I want to put on the back cover and/or website of whatever this game ultimately becomes, by your leave of course.

I'm very happy to have an award, which I certainly didn't expect. I'm even happier getting your characteristically incisive comments -- the guarantee of your feedback, not the possibility of an award, was the real draw of the Ronnies for me. But, y'know what? The absolute best part was Unco Lober, Ramidel (B.J. Lapham), and company Actually Playing this thing, both in terms of raw ego-gratification and hard playtest data. So you guys get my profoundest thanks.

Now, what Unco & co. did not tangle with was the problematic fictional content, specifically the central figure of the Girl, and that's an area where the author of Sex and Sorcery is uniquely qualified to comment/excoriate/advise, so -- restraining my mechanics-monkey impulses for a minute -- let's charge headlong into that mess first.



II. Fictional Content: Problematic? Hoo yeah!

Let's put our hands on the table. (Eww). Yes, absolutely, the figure of the Girl is pregnant with potential for ugly, icky sex/death stuff -- potentially literally pregnant, although all the Actual Play so far has (understandably) shied away from that particular possibility. Yes, absolutely, part of the problem, and part of the appeal, is the whole sex-and-violence "I want a woman who'll kill me for wanting her 'cause sex is bad and violence is good" bullshit that pervades American pop culture (viz., the unwatchable-except-as-fetishism Underground -- and yes, I did watch it, so I'm part of the problem); all of which is creepily akin to the whole liebestodt* Big Lie that pervades, say, the eve-of-World War I death-fetishizing poetry of Robert Brooks ("To turn, as swimmers into cleanness leaping... from a world grown old and cold and weary... And all the little emptiness of love!"**) and a lot of Nazi propaganda.

But.

There are meanings that a female character can carry that a male cannot, and, especially in this culture, especially above all for me, there are resonances to the woman warrior that no male protagonist can match -- which is why this game is never going to become apocalypse boy.

Full personal disclosure without being, I hope, too personal: I'm one of those male roleplayers who mostly, and most successfully, plays female characters. I come from a family where women were allowed to have strong emotions but not power, and men were allowed to have power but not strong emotions. (Am I unique in this? Please!). So, in terms of fiction generally, for me, a woman-with-power is inherently paradoxical, hence a worthy protagonist, and in terms of roleplaying particularly, for me, I'm able to explore emotions playing a woman (or girl) that just dry up when I'm playing a male. I think this is why, in my ongoing Capes campaign, the other players refused to let my male PC become a good guy: I'm simply not capable of playing a male as sympathetic, and they picked up on that. (Also, for the record: I'm straight, married, and the father of -- you guessed it -- a little girl, plus I've had a whole lotta therapy). In any case, for me -- and, I suspect, for thousands of fans of Buffy, Battle Angel Alita/Gunm, Ranma, Miyazaki's Nausicaa (yes, she's a cute, sweet Death Goddess, especially in the comic), et al*** -- a female protagonist can carry dramatically fertile paradoxes of powerful-but-vulnerable in ways a male hero can't.

Now, what the fuck (obscenity chosen carefully) do I do, usefully, with all this baggage I'm bringing to this game? And, conversely, with all the baggage everyone in any Christian-influenced culture is bringing to the game -- all stuff about the Virgin Mother, Mary Madgadelene as pure-or-whore,**** nuns as virgin-brides-of-Christ, Joan of Arc winning the war and burning at the stake?

Right now, chapter two of Sex and Sorcery is burning in my mind as if written in six-foot-high letters of fire.***** And what I'd hope for in this game, now that you've made me think about it, is not simply the (as a rule, tragic and bitter) "female protagonist in a male story," where a woman denies or sacrifices her reproductive life in service to some greater social good. What I'd hope for, instead, is a game that's at least capable of generating the "female story" -- the story about growing into one's reproductive, creative potential -- and, ideally, that can generate "male stories" (about social role/sacrifice for greater good) and "female stories" (about sexual identity, power, and creativity) at the same time, in the same session, with the same real people playing.

Uh, how?

[long pause]

[crickets chirping]

[shrug]

Obviously, I can always put a nice little essay in the back saying, "hey, here are some themes you can explore with these mechanics if you want," use sexual issues in the examples (as I've already done in some discussion threads), and make sure the mechanics don't get in the way.

But I'd much rather make mechanics that positively encourage such play, which probably means, among other things,
  (1) an explicit relationships mechanic and
  (2) a mechanical differentiation of the three Roles -- Dragon, World, and Girl -- that emphatically makes the Girl the protagonist. (Creepily enough, the Dragon seems to have won all three completed playtests so far. I think that's just because the most driven, aggressive player gravitates towards that Role.) Now that I really think about it, this probably also requires
   (3) removing the "safety" that -- if I understand Ron's analysis of Universalis, Polaris, and (maybe) Capes on the one hand vs. Sorcerer and Dogs in the Vineyard on the other (see http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=16554.0) -- is an inherent feature of certain types of games, where unacceptably disturbing additions to the fiction ("SIS," if you must) can be vetoed by various means and labeled as "that never happened." To give full room for this kind of game-story, the Girl's sexuality has to be explicitly at stake and in play with potential outcomes ranging from Virgin Birth to rape, without any participant being able to say, "no, no, that can't be" when the dice have said "yes, yes, it is." (In Sorcerer terminology, I believe what I'm talking about is having no Lines, i.e. no capacity to prohibit certain types of content; by contrast, Veils, i.e. avoiding explicit description of certain things, are probably essential). Note that I probably don't want to force anyone playing this game to go all the way down this road.

As far as I can tell, the current rules of apocalypse girl don't have any such "safety" -- if I capture someone else's Engine, I can narrate a change in its Meaning however I want with no recourse for the other players -- but this is an area where I tread very cautiously, because frankly, Ron, I'm not sure I understand your analysis of the two "superfamilies" in this context, even now. So: Enlighten me! If only by playing the old Zen master and knocking out all my teeth with a stick.....



III. Mechanics of the Design: Tweak it or gut it?

All of which brings us back to the rubber:road interface, the mechanics.

No, I've not written a revised version yet. (Visiting family + holidays + damned recurrent sinus thing). I'm still wrestling with key details of some of the features I want to add, which amount to rather more than tweaking the design but less, I think, than gutting it altogether:

1. Lots of examples, especially guidance on how various kinds of Engines (characters, aspects of characters, etc.) can be narrated growing stronger/weaker, becoming more or less loyal, and, most crucially, being captured by other players. My model here is absolutely Michael Miller's With Great Power..., particularly the "how can this Aspect of your character Suffer?" guidelines.
Whether the sexual issues discussed above are dealt with only in this "soft" textual guidance, or whether they get embodied in the "hard" mechanics, is a crucial unresolved question.
Further, every player's turn will be explicitly a scene in the fiction, with the active playing framing the scene and setting the Conflict, and the scene ending (if only interrupted) at the end of the turn.

2. No more "rounds of play" with an automatic refresh of all Engines' dice pools at the end. Instead, on your turn, you can either expend dice -- to create, strengthen, weaken, or attempt to capture a particular target Engine -- or replenish dice -- for one particular Engine. To borrow again from Miller's With Great Power..., spending dice gets narrated as a "conflict scene," refreshing dice gets narrated as an "enrichment scene" where the player's obligation is to tell us something new about the Engine in question.
The real reason for this change is to make big Engines worth the bother, instead of the current mechanics where lots of 1-die and 2-die "crawlers" are the obvious strategy. If refreshing one Engine's dice takes your turn, then you obviously get a lot more if you spend that turn refreshing a powerful Engine than refreshing a weak one. So while low-powered "crawlers" will still be the best return on your investment in terms of dice, as in the current rules, they will be a very inefficient use of your time (i.e. turns). (I'll give credit for this insight into the power of tradeoffs between high return on investment vs. having what you need when you really need it to Tony Lower-Basch, since Capes allows you to spend a Story Token either for a whole extra character in the scene or for one extra action when you really need it, a nuance it took me months of play to fully appreciate).

3. With no automatic refresh period, the Gun (already broken) needs to be changed. I'm thinking that the Gun's Power stays at 1 until the first time someone uses it: After every use of the Gun, the Gun's Power increases by one and all its dice refresh. This makes the Gun, as a pacing device, much less out-of-whack: Instead of arbitrarily growing in power regardless of the players' choices and the evolving fiction until using it is irresistable, it only increases in power if the players chose to give it power. And since it increases in power at the end of the turn in which you've used it, you've just handed the next player a loaded and more powerful Gun -- which should discourage use until someone's desperate, at which point Gun use should escalate madly and bring the game-world down in ruins.
I toyed with abandoning "the Gun is a special Engine" concept altogether and replacing it with a Dogs in the Vineyard-style escalation mechanic, but (a) this game is about the impact of your choices on the whole world, not a specific situation, and (b) I just like the way a player has to literally reach for the Gun. There's a ritual there, like the candle in Polaris, that is very cool. (Warning: Do not play apocalypse girl with an actual gun, even if you think it's unloaded. Please. If you're that big a moron, at least don't be a dead moron).

4. Multiple die types, and calculating effects by adding die values rather than simply counting cubes.
I'm thinking of a progression where an Engine of Power 1 is allowed a single d2 (i.e. a coin, flipped tails = 1, heads = 2), Power 2 allows 2d2s or 1d4, Power 3 allows 1d6 or 1d4+1d2 or 1d2+1d2+1d2. (I.e. an Engine has dice whose expected average value equals Power). This is the reason the current "capture/cancel" mechanics are in the game at all: If you want to go with lots of low-value dice (d2s, d4s), you're more likely to match your opponents' dice, and thus capture them, but also more likely to be captured in return; if you go with a few high-value dice, you're more able to cancel opponents' dice.
You achieve your desired effect when the sum of your dice in a conflict exceeds the sum of your opponent's dice by the required threshold, i.e. the Power or Loyalty of the Engine in contention.
To give an extended and possibly even comprehensible example:
Say I'm trying to take a Loyalty 4 Engine from you. In the first round of the turn/scene, I roll 2d6+1d4 for 4, 1, 2, and then you roll 1d10+1d2 to counter with 8, 2. What happens? You rolled second, so it's your 2 that matches and captures my 2 (rather than vice versa). That's no good for me: you're at 8, 2, 2, totalling 12, I'm just at 4, 1, totalling 5. You could use your 8 to cancel all my dice, but you don't, since spending 8 to erase 5 seems inefficient.
So then we go into a second round -- in the same scene/turn -- and I roll a bunch of crap dice as a high-risk strategy, 2d4+2d2, getting 2, 1, 1, 1 -- lousy roll, except the one match is enough, because my single 2 means I take all your 2s (including the one you took from me in the first place): Now I'm at 4, 2, 2, 2, 1, 1, 1, 1, totalling 14, and you've only got your lone 8 left -- I beat you by 6, which is more than the target Engine's Loyalty of 4, so bam, right now, before you can respond, the Engine's mine.
(I think I got that math right).
Besides the fiddly tactical bits, the hope here is to have big dice narrated as safe courses of action or reliable methods -- skill, certainty, power -- and little dice narrated as unreliable, risky stuff -- passion, panic, improvization. But balancing all this tasty tactical options is the tricky bit, of course; which brings us to....

5. No more "each player rolls one die a turn." Instead, a player's turn is a whole scene with the potential for every player to roll multiple dice -- a change that Unco Lober and B.J./Ramidel immediately and intuitively hit upon -- with play passing around the table as one player rolls, then another rolls in response, then the initial person rolls again, and back and forth and back and forth. But I want to do more with this than just "okay, roll however many dice you like up to X limit, but remember to keep some in reserve to defend yourself later."
Instead, I want to make this part of a relationship mechanic: The more connections there are in the fiction between two elements of the story (characters, personality traits of the same character, abstract ideas, whatever), the more dice the corresponding Engines can roll to affect each other. In game terms, this should make for more interesting tactics and strategy; in narrative terms, it should make for more interesting stories.
But I'm stuck between two alternative models, each with many details to thrash out:
5.1 - the network: Relationships between Engines are represented by lines between them -- the stronger the relationship, the more parallel lines linking the two Engines, and each line allows either Engine to roll one die per round (with multiple rounds possible within a scene) to affect the other. How do you get such a relationship in the first place? Presumably by spending dice, but I'm tempted to say, "you get as many as you want, just narrate it -- and be prepared to have them used against you."
5.2 - the gridwork: Each Engine is represented by a square tile. If two Engines are touching, they can roll dice to affect each other; you can move unattached Engines, or clusters of Engines, into contact with other Engines at any time, but you can't move them out of contact. Each Engine's tile, being a square, has only four tiles, so each Engine can only have relationships with four others. (This is basically the old Illuminati game, pre-CCG).
The network approach allows any Engine to be related to, and affect, any other; the gridwork approach allows you to put four Engines around all sides of one Engine you want to protect, shielding it from contact -- which may get too restrictive, but opens more tactical options. Presumably an Engine thus isolated from any contact with hostile players' Engines ("behind the lines") would have some ability to give its dice to other Engines nearer the front, rather like a reinforcing move in Risk.
In either case, I'd like a cataclysmic event in one Engine -- an Engine losing a level of Power or Loyalty, say, or being captured by an opposing player -- to have ripple effects on connected Engines. This might replace the "Charge" mechanic altogether.
However I do it, a relationship mechanic like this will make a major change in the game. And maybe any such mechanic would be too restrictive on how different Engines can interact, choking off both gameplay and narrative. But I think explicitly rewarding players for narrating relationships into play -- either among fictional individuals (Engines), or among the elements of one fictional individual's personality (also all Engines), or some combination -- would make for much more powerful stories of both "male" and "female" types.

6. Differentiating the Roles. I've got vague ideas of giving each one a special nifty dice trick: The Girl has Grace, so she can just give some other player a free die, no strings attached; the Dragon has the Devil's Bargain, so he can give his opponent an extra die if the opponent agrees the Dragon should get one too; the World has Compromise, so he can take a die away from everyone, including himself, to represent the energy of conflict dissipating into vague irresolution. But that's all very sketchy, and frankly not very powerful, thematically. This is the least developed of my ideas.

As for Ron's suggestions, yes to all, essentially: Gun dice rolled to create Engines still ricochet, Loyalty zero engines are available for any player to use (just like the Gun), and if more than one person is playing a given Role, the multiple players share and divide that Role's resources among themselves rather than being separate "factions."

* "Love-death." It's a Wagner thing -- a long, kinda unmelodious Wagner thing, specifically, but the creepy psychological/philosophical underpinnings are the issue here. Just Google it.
** Go to http://www.bartleby.com/232/401.html & keep hitting "Next" for the complete sequence of poems. Noble, beautiful, very very wrong.
*** Note, as a minor point, my cultural referents for this archetype are mostly different from Ron's.
**** N.B. the traditional identification of Mary Magdalene as a reformed prostitute is based on a medieval misreading of the Gospel text. I happen to be a little sensitive about this because my daughter's name is a derivative of "Magdalene."
***** If you're reading this, or trying to, and you haven't read Sex and Sorcery, go buy it right now, for Chapters 1, 2, and 3 alone: http://www.sorcerer-rpg.com/product.php/sexsorc.html. I am not fucking kidding, people. NOW.
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Ramidel
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Posts: 54


« Reply #2 on: January 01, 2006, 07:50:41 AM »

First, thank you for your kind words, and I was glad to be of help.

Now, I'll address the sections in order...

II. Fictional Content
Well, okay, my group has a fairly good idea of each other's limits, and they're pretty far out there (beyond the pale of reason at times), so we may miss some of the problems of having people who have less exposure to exploration of rape, incest and other sexual issues. Also, I'm probably unqualified to explore or explain emotions, since I simply do not pick up on them very well (I play male and female characters, both relatively well, but both genders tend to be rather cold sorts). That said, here's my report on the situation in the game (permission granted by the player of the Girl, thank you Geneva.)

In our game, the Girl had two boyfriends before she fell into the arms of the Dragon (my request to LARP the results was denied), but the sexual issues at the end seem to me like they had much less impact on the players than they would have had on the character. The Girl never suffered serious problems until I slammed down the final onslaught (her Core had been attacked, oh...never), so her sexuality wasn't endangered until she fell into the role of submissive concubine to Evil. At the risk of sounding cynical, I'm not sure that the latter would have much impact on the average observer...Western socio-sexual roles being as screwed up as they are, a defeated woman being forced into sex slavery may well run up against a wall of desensitization (the fact that I could suggest LARPing the results, and have it taken as the half-assed flirtation it was meant to be, is evidence of that). </rant>

Is the solution to deliberately play up the horror involved? I don't know.

III: Mechanics
Now I'm in my element :) Responses to each issue follow.
1. Yes! Examples, examples, examples! We muddled through with a dark anime theme because that was as near as we could come to figuring anything out, and we didn't have any single "thing" represented by two Engines (the Girl and the Girl's Period were very much one and the same). The Engines themselves were mostly named people, groups, or one special cat (who was very much an independent character...the group's favorite, in fact). Strictly by the "no superpowers" rule, said cat shouldn't even have done half of what he did, but who were we to complain? So yes, more examples and more clearly-defined "what is a superpower" would be good. I'd just like to suggest, however, that there should at least be one example which is written with light heart and has the readers splitting their sides with laughter. If the game is 100% dark, it gets hard to tell the shadings.

2. Agreed. I myself was banging my head against the wall looking for a rules tweak to break the Crawler Syndrome. Nothing came up. Also, this rule will get the Cores back into center stage, where they belong. And (gasp) make them targets for attack!

3. Agreed again. Gun's too strong as is, and now, the Gun will not become a nuclear weapon "when needed," it'll be a world-destruction tool when -not- needed.

4. Ah...no, you have it backwards on the risk factor. Big dice are risky, little dice are safe. If you roll 1d2+1d2+1d2, your minimum is 3, max is 6, roll 1d6, 1 and 6...and 1/8 is not much harder than 1/6 to get. Go up to 4 1d2s or 1d8 however, and 1/16 looks a lot harder than 1/8. So the little guy is forced to be slow-and-steady, while the big powerful engine can be romantic. Is it just me, or does this sound thematically wrong? (I would need to do some playtesting to see the balance of the new system, but my gut is: the old dice-system works.)

5. The grid...-hell no-. You'll see the Cores completely inaccessible and never doing anything...which works fine for Dragon and World, true. Do you want to see the Girl hiding behind her pets, though?

The network seems fine but it doesn't really seem to add much -mechanically-. Narrative-wise...hmm. It shows that we were playing things wrong, but there's a lot of effects that we may need to redefine (such as how an impersonal "Feeling of Fear" is related to everyone). It'll take playtesting to hammer out, again. Suggestion might be that you can only strengthen a particular relationship once per turn.

Also, I do want Charges to stay, because of the Dead Crawler strategy. Under Rule fix

6. Uh...differentiate the roles, yes. However, damned if I know how. Something to keep in mind, I think, is that the World's special ability should allow it to comfortably ally with either of the powers (Compromise just hurts everyone and likely ends up doing nothing). The Girl and the Dragon should -not- be natural allies by any means (so the Grace power is out) but the World should be able to play both sides against the middle, thematically. The Girl's ability, IMO, should be something related to direct action by the Core, since the Girl is the protagonist and the only Core who is supposed to be an independent persona (and thus able to act in the world). The Dragon...should be a tempter, a manipulator, a vampire. Devil's Bargain is on the right track.

Ron's ideas: Sure, with a question on Loyalty 0 engines...can they be "captured?" How will they refill?

Also, something I'd like to see happen, no idea how: some reason to destroy engines. I did not see one power-reduction, save by Gun, in my game. I'd like to see some death and destruction now and then...
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My real name is B.J. Lapham.
Kintara
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« Reply #3 on: January 01, 2006, 08:57:09 AM »

A small bit about differentiation between the roles: I think that the relationship mechanics would be a good place to build in that differentiation.

Just as a small brainstorm, perhaps the Dragon is all about hierarchy, the girl about connection, and the world about disconnection or fracture.  The Dragon might resemble the grid method.  The girl might be something like the network method.  And the World might benefit from creating "islands" of engines.
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #4 on: January 01, 2006, 11:27:29 AM »

Let me start by saying I just love the feedback I'm getting from people on this game. It has the reader feedback from my professional articles beat all to hell, to start with.


Fictional Content:

In our game, the Girl had two boyfriends before she fell into the arms of the Dragon...The Girl never suffered serious problems until I slammed down the final onslaught (her Core had been attacked, oh...never), so her sexuality wasn't endangered until she fell into the role of submissive concubine to Evil. ....the fact that I could suggest LARPing the results, and have it taken as the half-assed flirtation it was meant to be, is evidence of that...

Now that's fascinating. And I bet that if the game had been apocalypse boy, the Boy's defeat would not have been sexualized. So it seems that the Girl being a girl -- and being played by a real-life female -- set up a whole bunch of resonances even in a group that really wasn't looking for them. I'm glad your group's level of trust and comfort (i.e. the Social Contract level) was robust enough you and Geneva didn't end up freaking each other out or pissing each other off. But this suggests that I really do need to address this issue explicitly (hmm) in the text, if only so people don't blunder blindly into dangerous sexual territory without realizing it.

And, on the subject of female protagonists, here's a lovely on-point quote I couldn't find yesterday:

The explorative center of Trollbabe is Woman of Power. She has a unique identity and can bring power to bear upon situations which overrides the perceptions of others about what she "should" be....The trollbabe's identity is only expressed through play itself, as the Color-stuff on the sheet plays no role in strategizing options. And since the most consequential mechanic is, how much risk do I bring to those close to me, I think that taps into issues that we often associate with female identity at a very deep level.


Mechanics:

Good thoughts, all. To address two specifically:

a) Cute (overly cute?) dice tricks

Quote from: B.J. Lapham aka Ramidel
you have it backwards on the risk factor. Big dice are risky, little dice are safe. If you roll 1d2+1d2+1d2, your minimum is 3, max is 6, roll 1d6, 1 and 6... So the little guy is forced to be slow-and-steady, while the big powerful engine can be romantic. Is it just me, or does this sound thematically wrong?

You're absolutely right that big dice have more variable outcomes and small dice tend to cluster in predictable ranges of results -- and originally (in pre-Ronnies musings in notebooks) I was trying to take advantage of that, though I couldn't swing it in the end. But in the specific context of apocalypse girl, you're (understandably) overlooking the "dice capture" mechanic: If I roll a die and it comes up with the same value as any of yours, I capture all of your matching dice -- and small dice are more likely to match each other than big dice are, precisely because of their smaller range of possible outcomes.

My goal here is to break the common pattern of (1) more important things get more dice rolled on them, and (2) the more dice you roll, the more extreme results cancel each other out, so (3) the more important something is, the more predictable the net outcome. I've not worked out the probabilities, being combinatorics-impaired, but I believe that with the "capture matching dice" rule in place, outcomes become more unpredictable -- specifically, more prone to sudden reversals as big stacks of matched dice swing back and force -- as the number of dice invested increases. (Anyone want to do some math for me on this? There's always room in the Acknowledgments for one more.)

Now, this may all be more complexity than it's worth for the actual effect on gameplay; certainly the capture-matches rule didn't play a significant part in any of the playtests with the d6-only system submitted for the Ronnies.

I'm also cribbing (of course) from Dogs in the Vineyard, part of whose brilliance is that, in the mechanics, the emergent properties of different-sized dice give, say, d4 traits and d10 traits very different meaning in the story. I want to people playing apocalypse girl the kind of gut-check moments equivalent to Dogs players saying, "so that's a 4d4 trait? Oh man, bad news!" That die size can carry that much meaning is just too damned cool.


b) Relationship mechanics

Quote from: B.J.
The grid...-hell no-. You'll see the Cores completely inaccessible and never doing anything...which works fine for Dragon and World, true. Do you want to see the Girl hiding behind her pets, though? The network seems fine but it doesn't really seem to add much -mechanically-....there's a lot of effects that we may need to redefine (such as how an impersonal "Feeling of Fear" is related to everyone)....

That does seem to be the trap I've laid for myself: any relationship mechanic that's not too restrictive just doesn't do anything. Must ponder.

Quote from: Adam aka Kintara
the relationship mechanics would be a good place to build in that differentiation [between roles]...perhaps the Dragon is all about hierarchy, the girl about connection, and the world about disconnection or fracture.  The Dragon might resemble the grid method.  The girl might be something like the network method.  And the World might benefit from creating "islands" of engines.

This is a very intriguing suggestion -- thank you, Adam. Giving the different Roles different relationship rules would be a beast to balance (and "balance" in this game really does matter, instead of just being gamer fetish), but not only would it make the differences among them an important factor on every single turn, but it would make the differences visible on the gaming table, which is too damned cool. I'm kind of doubtful I can make it work, but I'll definitely explore it.

As an aside, personally, I'd think of the Dragon as the ultimate subversive rather than as a builder of hierarchies -- my mindset is "hierarchy good, anarchy bad" -- which makes me wonder if the rules should make three (or more) different styles of relationship-building available and allow each player to choose one and only one for the game, customizing their interpretation of the role.


c) Loose ends

Quote from: B.J.
I do want Charges to stay, because of the Dead Crawler strategy...

The what? You'll have to remind me.

Quote from: B.J.
Also, something I'd like to see happen, no idea how: some reason to destroy engines. I did not see one power-reduction, save by Gun, in my game. I'd like to see some death and destruction now and then...

You and me both. I think the revised dice mechanic may make things more fragile, but that's just a start.
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Unco Lober
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« Reply #5 on: January 01, 2006, 12:40:52 PM »

I short on the AG's idea. It is true that I myself like the idea of the aforementioned girl-warrior much more that I would have liked to...

But. What is most attracting to me about the AG is the following: anything there is, as Sydney said, sexualised in itself, and therefore, as for me, it needs not to be sexualised any more than that, and so its free not only of the popular modern badass-girl stuff Sydney mentioned, but even from that god's bride thing, too.

For me, Apocalypse Girl is not the "Amazon", and neither the "God's bride", but a simple girl doing big things, and probably perishing in the process (or not at all), but being the Girl to the very end. Whatever her way is, I love to watch her follow it.

--

Over with that... To game mechanics. Ideas and opinions.

(1.) Examples are absolutely vital. On our first game of AG, even though no one but me knew the rules at all, we started playing and other players learned at the process. The said what they wanted to do and then we either took the mechanic from the original text, or invented it if there was none. In AG you have to know what to do, and only the - how to do.

(3.) On the Gun.
In both our games if a player used a Gun, than it was all over. In several turns game was havoc. Someone won and someone lose. That was nice, but? if repeatedly, that would suck for sure.
I see two ways in developing rules for using a Gun and its in-game mechanic concepts:
- either let it be small-to-moderate force to be used several time a game,
- or let it, indeed, escalate into the world ruining weapon of destruction ending the game, but not so fast as it does this now. Just gradually.

(4.) On the concept of multiple dice types. Maybe that's just me, but I dislike the idea and never liked it before (I remember it being mentioned several times before). I really don't know, though, whether AG would benefit from introducing those D&Dish d4th and such or not, but at least it would surely diminish AG's interest to non-rpgers, who often own non cubic polyhedral not, and therefore won't be able to play AG (unless it comes with the "full instrumentary", boxed and expensive).

On connections and grids.
The connection Idea seems just... marvellous. Sydney, I really like that. When we play next time, even if the new rules draft won't be ready, at least I'm using this rule to roll Engine dice.
As for the grid... err, maybe my English just failed, but I got it so that players would need to use a grid in which they would place their engines, and would be able to move them in that grid. Well, that would be just so troublesome, I think.

(6.) On role differentiating, in short.
We had such an idea here! And I just say that this should be. This would be great. Early ideas presented in nearby posts look nice already.

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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #6 on: January 01, 2006, 08:00:44 PM »

Thanks, Unco. (What's "thank you" in Russian?).

As I look more at connections/relationship mechanics, I begin to think the real story-value in connections is not in restricting what players can choose to "attack" (or otherwise influence), but in allowing ripple effects: one Engine is damaged or turned, and secondary fallout cascades through all connected Engines, possibly including blowback to the original attacker. In other words, limiting interactions among Engines (story elements) is counterproductive, but increasing interaction is productive. Also, this might overcome a core problem of the design as-is, which is that you can define a major character as embodied in several Engines, but those Engines have no special relationship to each other, so "killing" or otherwise affecting such a character becomes strangely mushy.

And yes, an important caveat: I don't want to force players to treat the Girl in sexual terms. But to the extent she is sexual to start with -- and to the extent she gets sexualized whether people intend to (consciously) or not, as in B.J.'s game -- I need to be fully aware of the implications, and arm the players with something that will get them through the dark places* if they wind up there, intentionally or otherwise.

Ron? These are the caverns* you've explored deeper than anyone.

* Yes, yes, I do know the implications these words have in this context.
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Ramidel
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« Reply #7 on: January 01, 2006, 08:49:36 PM »

Now that's fascinating. And I bet that if the game had been apocalypse boy, the Boy's defeat would not have been sexualized.

Of course. In our screwed-up Western primate culture, a male who has sex with anyone in any way has not been defeated. Why do you think it's called "scoring?" ^_^ Jokes aside, sex is still usually a sign of male power and status, almost by definition.

a) Cute (overly cute?) dice tricks
Hmm. After reading this and your intentions (getting non-gamers into this), I'm leaning towards dislike. People who do not have experience with traditional D&D polyhedron-pumping mayhem are likely to be put off at first by the different-dice-type trick. And to be honest, I think it adds unnecessary complexity, while I'd like to keep tactics as simple as they can get without becoming degenerate (as in, inviting a single tactical type). May just be me.

c) Loose ends
Dead Crawler? ::blinks:: I think my typing fingers were working independently of my brain. What I think was coming up, in my sleeplessness-fogged brain, was an idea to create a collection of crawlers solely as a dice storage for the final battle, completely unfazeable by the Gun and easily re-stealable if attacked, never to be used. No idea how it would work...
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Unco Lober
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« Reply #8 on: January 02, 2006, 03:01:00 AM »

What I wanted to say, was that though the Girl is the protagonist (or tends to be one - on the first game one Dragon Engine was a main character instead), in AG, that is fully balanced in its Core with one statement, that she has nothing special other than that at all. The Girl is so balanced in her concept, that there is no further need to abuse or emphasize her feminity. Possibly, that's what is just so appealing in AG stories.

Sydney, "thank You" in Russian is "spas'ibo", generally meaning "God save you for this"; therefore, "spasibo" to You for further working on AG :-) can't wait to see the updadet ruleset.
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #9 on: January 02, 2006, 07:28:11 AM »

Spas'ibo.

I keep meaning to shut up and wait for Ron, but I keep having afterthoughts, and this one is worth noting for those who've not already read their copies of Sex and Sorcery (c'mon, already).

The Girl's sexuality > sexual intercourse + physical attractiveness. Sexuality also includes pregnancy, nursing, childrearing, and -- by extension -- all nurturing behaviors. It also can include ultimately being nurtured in return as one ages and enters "second childhood," becoming once again dependent on others. It can even, at a stretch, include death. It also includes, by negation, virginity, sterility, refusal to nurture others, independence from being nurtured by others, and, at its farthest reaches, immortality.
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #10 on: January 02, 2006, 07:34:21 PM »

Dammit. Additional afterthought, but all the little dials in my brain are way up in the red zone by now:

Ron, is your problem with this cliche/archetype basically that it's stuck in the "death/sex corner" of the horrifying diagram?

Because if so, the diagram implies "the way out is the way in," which in turn implies the Girl needs to (gulp) either
- embrace Death completely (in this context, probably assassination, Joan of Arc-style holy war, or, conversely, martyrdom), or
- embrace Sex completely (in this context, either virginity or maternity or both at once, although I suppose the temple prostitute is another model, as is, uh, "sexual healing" in a Stranger in a Strange Land sort of way).

Or am I starting to stare at those first chapters of Sex and Sorcery so hard I'm seeing things?
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #11 on: January 02, 2006, 08:36:08 PM »

Hiya,

Sydney, we shall start with a sharp slap.

Slap! You: Ow!

Quit obsessing over the Girl, all right? I have teased you for basing your game on an adolescent-male icon. Your proper response is to go, "Yup," own it as an iconic interest you happen to have, respond with ruefulness or humor or whatever you'd like, and move on already.

Ah. Here's another mental exercise. Imagine exactly what that hot but untouchable hyper-intellectual woman in your second year of college would say upon reading the first page of Apocalypse Girl (she wouldn't, of course, finish it, any more than she'd sit through the entirety of I Spit On Your Grave).

Now say, to her, using the accent that Malcolm or Iain will be happy to loan you for this purpose, "Ballocks to you!" Say it twice.

OK, let's get back to talking about engines, Currency, guns, and other such stuff.

Best,
Ron
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Kintara
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Posts: 48


« Reply #12 on: January 03, 2006, 10:46:12 AM »

Quote from: Adam aka Kintara
the relationship mechanics would be a good place to build in that differentiation [between roles]...perhaps the Dragon is all about hierarchy, the girl about connection, and the world about disconnection or fracture.  The Dragon might resemble the grid method.  The girl might be something like the network method.  And the World might benefit from creating "islands" of engines.

This is a very intriguing suggestion -- thank you, Adam. Giving the different Roles different relationship rules would be a beast to balance (and "balance" in this game really does matter, instead of just being gamer fetish), but not only would it make the differences among them an important factor on every single turn, but it would make the differences visible on the gaming table, which is too damned cool. I'm kind of doubtful I can make it work, but I'll definitely explore it.

As an aside, personally, I'd think of the Dragon as the ultimate subversive rather than as a builder of hierarchies -- my mindset is "hierarchy good, anarchy bad" -- which makes me wonder if the rules should make three (or more) different styles of relationship-building available and allow each player to choose one and only one for the game, customizing their interpretation of the role.
Hmm, yeah.  When I suggested it I thought, Shucks.  I'm glad I don't have to balance that one out.  I also liked the idea of the physicality of it.

Anyway, here's some more suggestions to take or leave. Perhaps it's easier for the Dragon and Girl to kill eachother's engines, and more difficult to capture them.  Or maybe it's easier for both the Girl and the Dragon to capture the World's engines, but the World can recapture them easily; combine this with a "collateral damage" relationship system and give the World a break on it (but let the Girl/Dragon feel it just as strongly if the World recaptures them).

Re: The Dragon - Personally, I associate positively with subversion, and negatively with "vertical power" (if that's the right phrase).  I guess that means I picture the Dragon as a CEO, and not as part of a grass roots network of evil. ;) I could see the Dragon as representing disconnection, though, but I guess that didn't match my vision of the endgame scenarios.
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #13 on: January 03, 2006, 08:14:39 PM »

Adam, now you've got me thinking that the ideal isn't to create a customized relationships mechanic for each Role after all, but instead to create a relationships system with a wide enough range of options that each player can choose a different way of forming relationships that (a) is visibly different on the table (b) is an equally valid strategy in game-mechanical terms and (c) makes a different moral/thematic statement in story terms. Which is -- well, easier and harder. Or not.

And now, Ron:

I have teased you for basing your game on an adolescent-male icon. Your proper response is to go, "Yup," own it as an iconic interest you happen to have, respond with ruefulness or humor or whatever you'd like, and move on already....let's get back to talking about engines, Currency, guns, and other such stuff.

Ron, it may've been offhand teasing to you, but to me it was the most useful thing you've said about the game, and quite possibly (although inadvertently on your part) about my entire roleplaying history: Okay, so I'm obsessed with this cliche, but why, and what can I do with it? So, after my initial "huh? Whaa... oh, he's teasing me," I decided to take it seriously even if you didn't. (Sometimes there is nothing more worth taking seriously than a joke.) And what I'm struggling with is precisely how to translate the resulting insights into the hard mechanics -- the Engines, currency, Guns, 'n' stuff.

(As an aside, although I may never convince you of this, the obsessive attraction of the Cute Death Chick for me is much less about wanting to fuck her because she's hot than it is about wanting to be her because she gets to express anger, which I in real life can't do without stomach-churning stress. The frustration being vicariously released is only secondarily sexual; primarily it's frustration with my difficulty "asserting one's position through violence" and instead, as a result, "living in some form of fear" all the fucking time. Hell, I'm tying myself in knots trying to express the fact that I'm currently frustrated with you).

Enough psychoanalysis. What I need your help with is embedding this stuff in the mechanics. I can two distinct sets (tangles?) of issues directly related to making use of The Sex Stuff, and a third less directly related:

1. Faciliating "Male"/social vs. "Female"/reproductive story types, and Relationship mechanics
The current mechanics are all about choosing what to sacrifice and what to save -- on at least three levels: 1) which Engines you will fight for and which you'll let go; 2) when you'll reach for the Gun; 3) which (if either) of the other two Roles you're willing to ally with. (The fact that the Meanings of all the Engines and Cores in question are defined by an individual player instead of predefined -- e.g. on collectable cards -- is, I think, the only thing keeping this game out of the "not an RPG" category).

Now that I look at it with Sex & Sorcery in mind, this mechanic inherently poses all sorts of "male" story choices: Do I prioritize myself, my loved ones, some larger group, all humanity? It doesn't get in the way of "female" story choices, but it doesn't really support them either: Players have to keep on choosing Core and Engine Meanings that are relevant to reproductive identity -- e.g. potential love interests, aspects of the Girl's personality, aspects of the Girl's body -- and keep narrating conflicts over them accordingly.

My first thought was that I could solve this with the (still notional) relationship mechanic. Whereas the current draft basically gives all Engines equal access to all other Engines, a mechanic that explicitly linked particular Engines and somehow tied their fates together could be used to encourage narrative about (a) intense emotional bonds between people and, arguably more important, (b) relationships among different aspects of a single personality. (It strikes me as strange, for example, that an Engine like "the Girl's period/pregnancy" would interact with, say, "International Monetary Fund" in exactly the same way as it would interact with "The Girl's social life," but that's what the current rules do).

But this kind of relationship mechanic still seems to do better at generating male/social stories than female/reproductive ones, because it still is all about "do you prioritize those closest to you or not?" instead of "how will you change?"

In fact, the only part of the current mechanics that channels play towards issues of identity and personal growth/stasis/transformation is the little bit that when you take another player's Engine, you can rewrite its Meaning. This is drawn from an aspect of  Capes -- the ability to threaten all sorts of personal issues about who a character really is by the way you phrase a Conflict -- that has proved really powerful in my ongoing game with Tony & Eric, but it's definitely "advanced Capes," not a technique that's immediately obvious and natural as soon as you start playing, and it's not much more obvious here.

In brief, I'm confident the game as written, and even more so when (if) the relationship rules are worked out, will be good at generating "male" stories about choosing one person or group over another. But I also want it to be equally good at generating "female" stories about internal personal change affecting one's relationships with the wider world. And I'm right now blanking on how, mechanically, to do that. So I'm looking for any and all suggestions.


2. I need to get unsafe!

I'm going to quote what you said to Ben Lehman about Mud Dragon:

This game represents your first one-toe steps onto entirely different ground in game design - specifically, putting everyone into the position of facing whatever adversity there is to face, without negotiating and reassuring one another about it....It's not "there" yet, though. There's still too much agreement, too many re-roll opportunities, too much fear-of-failure, too much room for editorial preference. I say, you need to get unsafe! ....my following suggestions are all about getting adversity into play without any negotiation or recourse. In Sorcerer, when I say, "You wake up and the demon is sucking your dick," there isn't any "You ask far too much" or spending a Story Point to change "demon" to "wife."

As I understand you (e.g. eventually, by the end of this thread), you'd firmly put Capes, of which apocalypse girl is a derivative, firmly in the same category as Ben's Polaris, which is the Universalis-descended family where "the safety is on," at it were: Players can narrate all sorts of crazy, transgressive, or threatening things, including saying what other people's characters really intend or want or feel or believe; but such an assertion only becomes part of the fiction in a substantive way (the final "E" in IIEE, I guess) after a back-and-forth in which everyone has at least a chance to contest the assertion -- Challenges and Conflicts in Universalis, "but only if" et al in Polaris, Conflicts in Capes.

Now, I've never been entirely convinced "any significant assertion can be contested" really holds true for Capes, and I'm even less convinced after this actual play experience (emphasis added):

[the other players] put out a Goal for Kettridge, "Tell his superiors the whole truth" -- which meant, by its very introduction into play, that Kettridge was lying by omission about something important, which hadn't been my intent at all -- followed in this most recent session by a flurry of goals like ..."Kettridge: Convince himself he's telling the truth."

And when I look to see whether there's a safety mechanic in apocalypse girl, I start to get really confused. Okay, you can't change the Meaning of someone else's Engine without them getting a chance to fight back, sure. But when you roll your dice to attack an Engine, you're allowed to narrate pretty much anything you want, as long as it doesn't prejudge the final issue. For example (as long as we're talking about sexuality), if you're playing the Girl with the Core, "I'm a virgin," I can't narrate "you wake up and the demon's dick is inside you," but I can narrate anything else up to and including "you wake up and the demon is sucking your clit," or even, "so it's Tuesday, and you're giving this demon a hand job," and, well, I don't see that these rules give you any recourse. Or do they, and I'm just missing it?

This question is much more focused than the first one, and Ron is quite possibly the only person on the planet who can answer it: Is there a "safety" either explicit or implied in the current rules? If so, where is it, and how do I get rid of it?


3. Tactics as a turbocharger for story

local strategizing is useful for any Creative Agenda. It's sitting there as a little turbo-charger.

This is a more general issue than The Sex Thing, but I was struck by two of Ron's comments about Tony Pace's October Shadows:

the larger reward system, whether character improvement or crisis resolution (crisis resolution = Kicker in Sorcerer, town in Dogs) will be "fed" by smaller-scale resolution, no matter what happens in the, for lack of a better word, "fights." To be absolutely clear: what happens in a given scene in Sorcerer is absolutely crucial to the story-in-development, and the dice-wrangling is crucial to what happens in that scene. But failure to strategize the dice well, or a bad bounce from the dice in spite of your strategizing, will not ruin the story-in-development. It will turn out differently, that's for sure, but the overall endeavor is not at risk.

I want apocalypse girl to do this, and I think it does, because (a) the game is hardwired as a single unit of "crisis resolution" and (b) tactical defeats, e.g. losing an Engine, generate interesting twists in the story rather than bringing it to a halt. The biggest threat here is the overpowered Gun knocking a Core out of play and triggering Endgame too quickly, and too arbitrarily, for there to be a satisfying story, driven by player decisions, but I'm confident the Gun's fixable. Are there other problems I'm not seeing, though?

In many games, but not all, risks appear in the middle of conflict resolution which become essential ... but were not predictable before the dice (or whatever) hit the table. This is what a lot of people love but cannot articulate about HeroQuest, Sorcerer, Dogs in the Vineyard, and Dust Devils resolution. This feature is absent in My Life with Master, The Mountain Witch, and Primetime Adventures. It is present and explicit, in very different ways, in Trollbabe and Polaris.

Again, I want to accomplish this, and I think I'm pretty close. Capes does this because narration of the back-and-forth within a Conflict, and the introduction of other Conflicts that interact with the first one, can introduce new elements unpredictably, and a big part of winning conflicts is about introducing things into the narrative that the other players care about; I want my back-and-forth conflict resolution to do the same. I suspect it'll be stronger, though, if I can make a relationships mechanic that allows "backblast" or "fallout" from resolving the conflict over one Engine affect other, related Engines.

Perhaps I've had it backwards: instead of saying "you need to form a mechanical relationship from Engine A to Engine B before A's dice can affect B," it should be "using A's dice to affect B creates a relationship, which then allows conflicts over B to have spill-over effects back onto A." That would supply what Dogs resolution has, and which apocalypse girl still lacks, namely the ability to put more and more things at risk in a particular conflict (there, through Fallout; here, through committing dice from Engines that then become subject to backblast).

And of course, if I can make these things happen, any story generated by this game will be more powerful, whether male or female or whatever.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #14 on: January 03, 2006, 08:43:00 PM »

Hi Sydney,

1.
Quote
although I may never convince you of this, the obsessive attraction of the Cute Death Chick for me is much less about wanting to fuck her because she's hot than it is about wanting to be her because she gets to express anger, which I in real life can't do without stomach-churning stress

You don't have to convince me, because this is where I've been coming from all along. This is the primary point found in Carol Clover's great book, Men Women and Chainsaws, which I reference in Sex & Sorcery. She makes the awesome insight that young women heroes in slasher-flicks are not rape victims for the vicarious eyes of would-be rapist male audiences, but rather the perfect vessels for "turnaround in the pinch, strike back" power fantasy.

This is why gamers fall all over themselves regarding killer-cool chicks ... and why it embarasses them to be aroused by them, which if you think about it, is pretty stupid if all they wanted to do was fuck'em. Nope, it's a reasonable reaction, given what's really going on.

The good news is that you don't have to be frustrated with me any longer! I do understand - really!

I am 100% convinced that the male/social framework for this game is exactly right, and that it's even righter to put the Girl in the middle of it, and let the group's own application decide how "femaleness" fits in there. That is exactly, totally, and perfectly what I have been talking about with "missing corners of cubes" and "fruitful voids," and what Vincent has been talking about with "centers of whirlwinds." Don't add it or try to fill it in - you'll fuck up the best part of real play.

2. As you quite rightly analyze and then ask the crucial questions about safety and so on ... my current reading suggests to me that Apocalypse Girl does not have a "safety" in the fashion that I have described previously (in veiled fashion on line, more explicitly in private communication with you). I'm not 100% sure and can't be without playing it extensively. Vincent is also very good at examining this issue, so his viewpoint will be helpful as well. So at present, I suggest that you do not have to hunt down any particular mechanic and kill it. Just keep things as they are, keep working with the effectiveness-issues that others have posed about, say, the Gun, and keep playing the thing and seeing how you like it.

3.
Quote
a big part of winning conflicts is about introducing things into the narrative that the other players care about; I want my back-and-forth conflict resolution to do the same. I suspect it'll be stronger, though, if I can make a relationships mechanic that allows "backblast" or "fallout" from resolving the conflict over one Engine affect other, related Engines.

I think that's why you need to consider those Currency issues. However, you can only do this so much based on reading and counting on your fingers; play it a couple of times and see.

Quote
Perhaps I've had it backwards: instead of saying "you need to form a mechanical relationship from Engine A to Engine B before A's dice can affect B," it should be "using A's dice to affect B creates a relationship, which then allows conflicts over B to have spill-over effects back onto A." That would supply what Dogs resolution has, and which apocalypse girl still lacks, namely the ability to put more and more things at risk in a particular conflict (there, through Fallout; here, through committing dice from Engines that then become subject to backblast).

YES. Now you're on it. Go!

Best,
Ron
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