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[White Dragon] Ronnies feedback

Started by Ron Edwards, December 31, 2005, 04:30:13 PM

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Ron Edwards

White Dragon by Alexander Newman gets a Low Ronny! I think it's notable for its excellent use of the terms, as well as the general humorous take that manages to make them work.

The trio-dance of power + drinking + secrets is great stuff. My only concern with it is the grey, vague procedural aspect of introducing stuff into the SIS as hints or suspicions. Since players have explicit knowledge of all the secrets, but they only get tactical use of of them when the characters know them, I'm under the impression that ... well, let's see if I can write it out.

Sam is playing Stepan; Bob is playing Boris. Stepan's little secret is his vodka still, and his shameless capitalist-pig profiteering off it. Boris' little secret is his Trotsky pamphlets (h'm, maybe that's a big secret, not the point here though). If I'm reading it correctly, Sam will hint at Boris' secret, and Bob will hint at Stepan's secret (cross player/character, see). That seems straightforward, but it carries the procedural risk that hinting is much harder than saying - everyone involved has to agree that a given hint is "enough but not too much." This was a problem in playing the game Soap for many groups.

Also, in some cases, as in the textual example, a player won't want his character to learn secrets, and will therefore roll to resist discovering a secret. Which is also weird. I'm having a little trouble organizing when and how these things are handled during play.

As with many of the entrants this time, you've posed a strong modification of the Dogs mechanic, although the overall game owes more to Unknown Armies and My Life with Master. My question is whether the dice you roll are revealed to your opponent at the outset, or does each person put out a die from the hidden dice they've rolled? Because if it's the latter, then my take is that you basically are just rolling dice pools against one another in Sorcerer-fashion and really don't have to "put out and match" at all.

The references to steel wire abortion don't work well for the game, however. I'm not not criticizing them out of a sense of repulsion or disapproval, but rather because it's jarring relative to the rest of the content. My take on the game is that it's a bit light-hearted, but if you want the steel wire abortion in there, then I suggest including many other similar, gruesome references as well for a more consistent tone.



Thanks for the feedback, the Low Ronny and for providing the delicious competitive spur in the first place.

Immediately after writing the entry, I discussed it a bit with the NYC nerds, and recognised that there are definitely things missing, and stuff that just won't work as written. Then, alas, the mud hit the fan at work, and I put it aside completely for a while. I'm delighted to pick it up again, and have some new ideas spring up at the same time.

I wanted to engender a sense of the suspicion, betrayal, distrust and secrecy that a Russian emigré colleague of mine talked about experiencing in her first couple of decades - before subsequently emigrating. My feeling is that if it can be made enticing - or necessary - enough to do terrible things to your neighbours, and funny at the same time, it should be possible to get players to extend that to their immediate fictional family, and maybe sit up and think "Oh, did I just do that? To my sister? Shit."  That's where the admittedly jarring steel wire came from - a desire for an implicit fun/horror dial that really turned out to be more of a steel wire ouch moment. I think I will rewrite without the abortion, and let subtext arise naturally.

The dice mechanic was intended to be openly rolled, with the (perhaps aggravating) twist that the 'winner' of the round - he who put out fewer dice - doesn't necessarily actually win: it's still random who suffers the greater effects of the booze. I think I intended for the rerolled die to be added to the pool again, so that advantage would shift from the initial static roll as the bout played out. I confess freely, I have no idea how this will work, and will be subjecting some nerds to a playtest soon. My (usually flawed) intuition tells me there is an opportunity for some devious strategising with the pools, but I haven't figured it out quite yet.

Introducing material to the SIS is clearly a major problem in White Dragon - right now, it's all there from the start, and while most actions have mechanical effect (bringing the arrival of either the Dragon or the NKVD man closer) nothing anyone says has any real opportunity to grow and be re-used. I'm also unsatisfied with the protagonists' families and their almost non-existence. My first thought was to add another question to chargen: Who will you sacrifice to the Dragon? - the answer must be a family member, thereby introducing an initial round of named NPCs to colour the space. That doesn't address the problem, though. As Thor pointed out in the nerd thread: "it seems like there's not a lot you can do DIRECTLY to betray your comrades and divert the NKVD and Belosnezhnyi".

Now I am considering an alternative: starting everyone off with a pool of dice that represent as-yet-unnamed family members. You get to use a die from the pool to your advantage by naming a relative (who will have a secret of their own and for whom you as patri-/matriarch are responsible), thereby setting them up for sacrifice. At the moment, there are two endgame conditions - the extremes of each players' Facade scale, and the global here-comes-the-NKVD/-Dragon scale. It might be more elegant to replace the global scale with the family member dice pool, so that to avoid your grisly fate on the Facade scale, you must use up your family, until you either have no family left or can't take it any more. If other players got to describe the relative's secret when you introduced them to the SIS, there should be an incentive for them to make the NPCs as appealing and vulnerable as possible, and the sacrifice as terrible as they can manage (or bear). This would also involve augmenting the sober conversation type of scene with a Gossip scene as well as the Invitation, which I like. I am still rather taken with Pavka's story, and am tempted to make it obligatory that one of your family members is just such a roach.

I am concerned that deciding who was responsible for your parents' demise may not be kicker enough to get the ball rolling. The game should work in such a way that every scene drives someone closer to losing: every action should be ultimately destructive... but if everyone is just all sweetness and light, brotherhood, harmony and loving kindness, nothing happens.

You are absolutely right about the difficulty of managing hints and suspicions: not least because I recall finding it tricky when writing the example - which should have been a big old warning bell. I'm tempted to have the patriarchs' secrets closed or even randomised, and have the drinking match be largely speculative. Speculation which could then be used to fuel new secrets for family members. The trick would be making the narrative of the drinking match viably persistent in the SIS.

Thanks again for the feedback; I have a lot of thinking and sketching to do, primarily around the lifecycle of secrets and lies and the exercise of power.

Winning gives birth to hostility.
Losing, one lies down in pain.
The calmed lie down with ease,
having set winning & losing aside.

- Samyutta Nikaya III, 14

Ron Edwards


I suggest that "who ratted on my parent" is just right for the Kicker, or (for this game) Kicker-equivalent. It also has the interesting potential to range anywhere along the spectrum from poignant, to dramatic/vengeful, to funny. So I suggest sticking with that.