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[October's Shadows] Ronnies feedback

Started by Ron Edwards, December 31, 2005, 07:43:39 PM

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Ron Edwards

October's Shadows by Tony Pace nets itself a Low Ronny! Yay for Soviet games.

This one is another 2nd Directorate Game, again focusing on ideology and directly changing one another's ideological traits. I suggest not disallowing Cheka and Bolshevik as traits; after all, they can merely be changed like anyone else's right?

It seems to me that in order to play at all, everyone has to give up on the idea that their character's outlook is sacrosanct. Therefore I reject both of your suggested solutions to the "My Guy" reaction during play - I think the only meaningful rule, in this case, will read, "Get over it."

The context of "the house" isn't working too well for me, unless the point is to hem everyone in together. However, I think you might do better to achieve that simply by Weaving and Crossing (see the Glossary terms) rather then relying on the geographic location. Also, the term "gun" is comparatively weak in this game ... except, well, OK, there's always the profoundly Russian Chekhov quote. I can see that.

I was a little put back by the bewildering profusion of NPCs and Connections that play seems to require, similar to A Song Without End. I think you'd do better with the notion of "less is more" for starting characters and letting NPCs and Connections get added through play. I also think your list of proposed difficulty levels is just right, and should be treated as rock-solid - don't dink around with adjusting it during play (contra the current text).

OK, here's the main thing. This game suffers from Gamist/Narrativist crisis throughout its text. I can see the typical Once Upon a Time frustration in action - are we here to work out a great theme, or is this about winning? You almost lost your Ronny on this issue, only being saved by the focus on Soviet history and the powerful issues it raises, which bumps it toward N, as I see it.

In line with that, I really like the commonality modifier which applies in social conflicts, and the Mountain-Witch-inspired betrayal is awesome. You can count on me playtesting this one very soon.


James Holloway

I'd just like to add that I wish I'd read the simple Comrades rules in October's Shadow before making such a dreadful hash of the ones in Krasnoarmeets. They really made me think about how Tovarishti in my game relate to Stress, which has inspired a much cleaner reworking.


As for the mixed gamist focus, I guess the simple reason is that's where my experience with successful play has been for the most part. I do see exactly what you're talking about - in truth it was painful for me to read my own words. Mixed messages everywhere.

The house was the starting point of inspiration (Dr. Zhivago) and is meant to fulfill the same purpose as a set in a play - a direct and more comprehensible representation of Russia at the time. However, my sharpest player's reaction was precisely the same as yours. At least on a basic level I plan to keep it, while depopulating it somewhat to keep the NPCs and connections more manageable.

I need to do some thinking about the gamist focus with the housing subcommittee meetings. On one hand it's not historical, but it was meant to be a mirror of the soviet congresses and the like. On the other it's obviously a forum for resource based competition which isn't really where I want to go. During playtesting, I'm going to hold off on this until at least Jan. 1918 to begin this, and if it isn't working well I'll just drop it. Or I could just skip the fake soviets and move directly to the real ones.

Authority suffers from the same problem. It's an expression of power, which is good, but as a focus of win/loss conflict it's a weakness.

One of my players suggested secret goal cards to add more definition to the characters (without having read the Mountain Witch). I was considering implementing them as power 4 influences that can be distributed as the player sees fit. Does anyone have any opinions about this?


I'm working right now on making a single page rules summary for playtesting. I'm working hard to reduce the incoherence that Ron complained of by eliminating the competitive focus. Without a solid effort here, I'm pretty sure the playtest group will quickly embrace Turning. That's not a bad thing by itself but it removes the focus on morality and ideology I was aiming for.

The biggest issues right now are the rules of six and one.

Briefly, the system works like War, with single dice compared simultaneously, the winner capturing the pair as a book. Books can be used to purchase results. The rules in question work like this:

Dice captured with a six can be rerolled and led immediately.
A six that captures and is used this way is put aside alone as a book.
Ones captured by a four or better can be rerolled and led immediately.
The die that captured the one is turned to a six and put aside as a book.

I was hoping to create an outside chance for the outmatched to win conflicts. However, I worry that the tactical element here creates the wrong atmosphere.

The other major outstanding issue is the tactical element of the entire dice system, where selection of dice is a crucial element of achieving your aims. Dogs gets away with this, but I worry I won't.

Ron Edwards

Hi Tony,

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

I suggest that you're scaring yourself a little, saying oh no, if they get to strategize, then they'll want to WIN, and oh no! I agree this is a risk, but you've certainly chosen the right game for comparison: Dogs. In Dogs, as in Sorcerer, dice-strategizing is a big part of dealing with conflicts.

So why don't these games Go Gamist regularly? Why don't Vincent and I have to wave our hands and say, "Oh, a good group won't do that" when someone asks about it?

Because 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. Look at the reward cycle at the larger scale and make sure it turns over as you want it to.

Read that paragraph at least a couple of times. This is advanced critical-thinking for RPGs and I doubt whether as many as five people who fancy themselves Forge-heads have grasped it. To utilize this concept in play without a pre-set storyline or a story-overseer armed with Force is the essence of Narrativist-facilitating technique.

Here's a related thought, also advanced. 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.

It seems to me that you're including that feature, and that you have a good shot at achieving it. In doing so, yes, you have to consider tactics and options. But keep my first point in mind as the overall framework, and what you're worried about will not appear.