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Author Topic: [Dreamation, The Princes' Kingdom] The Island of Lo Pang  (Read 13497 times)
Clinton R. Nixon
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« on: January 23, 2006, 04:54:10 AM »

I ran The Princes' Kingdom at Dreamation for seven players - which is insane, but great! I will tell you right now that it was one of the most fun times I've ever had as a GM. It was my favorite game of the con, and probably my favorite game I've played/ran in the last 12 months. It made me wish I had a 7 person game group at home.

This post should have several parts. First, I'll show you the prep I had. If you don't know this already, the game is a game for and about kids and adults based off Dogs in the Vineyard. The PCs are young princes (boys and girls, which is ok), all children of the King of Islandia, a giant kingdom that spans hundreds of islands. Before they reach the age of adulthood (13), they must travel out in the world and take the King's laws with them, so they can help people solve their problems and find out what people are really like and what they need. Instead of towns, you go to islands. So, here's the island.

The Island of Lo Pang

What's the island like? It looks a lot like a small version of Japan, set in the 1200s. There's definitely a hill-lands and a low-lands. For some reason, everything's names are more Chinese-sounding.

Who lives there? The larger area, the hills, are where the people of Lo Pang live. They look Asian. Below, in the lowlands, are the Wulin, a more primitive minority that look like white people covered in reddish-blonde fur. They're kind of like orangutan humans.

What are the problems?
Pride: The islanders think the beliefs of the Wulin are silly and stupid.
Injustice: They have been eating the Wulin's sacred coy.

Disobedience: The Wulin attacked some islanders.
Outlaws: Gangs of islander men have been hunting down the Wulin to get revenge.

Unrest: Rumors have been spread that the Wulin kill children.
Bad laws: No women or children are allowed outside after dark.

False leader: General Fan Mu has taken over the island.
Rebellion: The island's real governor, Pei, has been imprisoned and the people are happy to follow Fan Mu.

(The last step is war. I did not bring the island to that level.)

Who are the major NPCs, and what do they want from the princes?
General Fan Mu: He wants the princes to make him officially the new governor.
Governor Pei: He wants the princes to restore order and tell people he didn't make any mistakes.
Ang (head of the Wulin tribes): He wants the princes to get the Lo Pang to stop eating their sacred fish and let them trade again.
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Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games
Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #1 on: January 23, 2006, 04:54:32 AM »

This was the first time I ran the game ever. I had little doubt it would run well, though - it's Dogs, right? The result was striking. It was very, very good, but not exactly Dogs.

My major thought from it is: the less things change, the less they stay the same. That is, the game is based off the ruleset for Dogs in the Vineyard. The rules are very similar in execution. The few differences change the game completely.

My favorite bit was how traits work in TPK. Instead of having "I know about animals 2d6", you just have "I know about animals". Depending on whether it's a trait your prince is good at or a trait that causes him trouble, it's a d8 or d4, but it'll never change. In Dogs, when you get experience, you can just raise something you already have to be better, which is cool. In TPK, you have to think of something new. The character sheet quickly - in-one-game-session-quickly - becomes a list of all the things the princes learn on their travels, which is so perfect for the game.

Another interesting thing that I was worried about was the lack of escalation. In TPK, you roll your age in d6's for a conflict. You do not get new stat type dice for escalating, but only traits and belongings. I thought this might make things boring. Instead, it made it much more in the vein of the kids' fantasy I wanted. Violence shouldn't happen often, and when it does, it's quick and horrible. The general in this game used his sword once. He pulled it off the wall and showed three inches of the blade while saying that this sword gives him authority. And it worked really well - we didn't have to go to fighting, because it would have barely helped.

I imagine, because you can't get a tremendous amount of dice for moving to fighting, that it will be used as the last thing in a conflict. An example: you've got 2 dice: 1 and 2. The other guy has one die, a 4. He raises with that die. You're a goner in this argument. But that sword is 1d8 + 1d4. You're good at swordfighting - a d8. Maybe it's time to take a swing. If you do, there will probably be only one.
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Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games
Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #2 on: January 23, 2006, 04:55:13 AM »

How the game played out

The game really putted along well. 7 initiations scared me, but we made it through them pretty quickly. Conflicts (or "struggles," as we call them for the kids) in TPK are quicker than they are in Dogs. I think my favorite was "I hope I know all the secrets" with the five-year-old sneaking onto the boat even though it wasn't his time to leave yet. All the initiations were pretty great, though, especially the ones with scary adults.

In one, the young prince wanted to prove he sees the big picture and had to settle a court case. One farmer was upset because he grew a great crop this year and had to pay extra taxes. His neighbor did poorly (because of laziness, this guy thought) and didn't have to pay any taxes. Why should he be punished for doing well? Joshua Newman turned and said, "Not like Clinton's a socialist or anything," which cracked me up at least. (The game is kind of my liberal fantasy.)

The entire island was solved very quickly - much quicker than in Dogs. I think the elements that contributed to this were the straightforwardness of the town and the amount of players to handle things. We had two players who hadn't played Dogs before and they got it quickly. I was very amazed at the cohesiveness of vision, but I think part of that is that we were playing a family, which is so cool.

The basic flow of play was:
- Get to the island and meet the general.
- Confront the general about issues and find out most of what's going on.
- Some kids go to the imprisoned governor and free him and figure out his story.
- Others go to the lowlands and meet Ang and get his story.
- Others confront the general more and actually get in a threatening argument with him and then win the argument, quoting ancient Sun Tzu-like philosophy-strategy at him.
- The kids bring Ang to the village.
- Everyone meets up, the kids make a decision and people stick to it.
- The family has an argument about capital punishment and decides in the end not to execute the general, but send him into exile in the lowlands to live among the Wulin and understand them.

The argument about capital punishment, by the way - wow. That was a good one.
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Clinton R. Nixon
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Robert Bohl
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« Reply #3 on: January 23, 2006, 07:47:03 AM »

The solution--to exilie him to the low people who he had persecuted--was genius.  And that came from someone who'd never played the game before.
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Oo! Let's Make a Game!: Joshua A.C. Newman and I make a transhumanist RPG
Joshua A.C. Newman
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« Reply #4 on: January 23, 2006, 09:12:08 AM »

The outcome of that whole story was deeply satisfying. The inability to escalate, though... I think it has to be replaced with something else. The weighing of likelihood to win with consequences to the self is a really great part of Dogs. Like, maybe if you invoke your authority, you risk it. Something like that, where your authority starts your age, and fallout can cause your authority must increase or decrease in addition to other fallout.

... because that's what the game's about, right? Growing up? ... and showing the differences between growing up and just growing older?
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the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.
Lisa Padol
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« Reply #5 on: January 24, 2006, 06:53:03 AM »

Hm. I'm not sure if this is going somewhere useful, but --

So, as Blue Rose shows, there's a lot of fiction about generally young, usually coming of age people who wander around trying to do good, as they perceive it, and who generally have psychic powers.

Would a Dogs/Princes variant work for this, with Psychic Powers taking the place of the Gun? Like the gun for Dogs, the sword for Samurai, and the light saber for Jedi, Psychic Powers are the Signature Weapon of the, um, Lackey-esque type of protagonist.

Does this make sense? Is it worth pursuing?

-Lisa
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Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #6 on: January 24, 2006, 09:53:33 AM »

Neat!

Clinton, were any of your players kids themselves? 
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Joshua A.C. Newman
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« Reply #7 on: January 24, 2006, 10:13:39 AM »

Lisa, the question is not "signature" but "what you pull out when all other options are exhausted". That's the point of escalation: to give options with consequences.

So, obviously you could have psychic powers be in that category, but they have to mean the same thing as a gun or a lightsaber.

I TPK (I love that acronym), the only mechanical difference to a sharp weapon is 1d4. And since escalation doesn't really happen, it's only a small mechanical advantage.
Nonetheless, having a bunch of psychic powers available as "possessions" could be both mighty and a temptation. You only get 1d4 for each sword you draw, but you could have a variety of psychic abilities. That might push players to use them. If fallout is written write, that could be just dandy.
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the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.
Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #8 on: January 24, 2006, 10:49:23 AM »

the question is not "signature" but "what you pull out when all other options are exhausted". That's the point of escalation: to give options with consequences.

Agreed, but I'd go farther. To quote myself on "so what should the d10 fallout option be in non-Western settings":

I'd say it's not about the bigness and badness in themselves: The Acuity+Will weapon is the weapon with unique moral significance for the setting: the weapon that can only be mastered by a true hero (or villain), in whose hands it becomes an instrument of judgment. In a Western, that's guns, but not simply because guns are deadlier than pitchforks or knives (though they are), but because guns resonate with themes of power and judgment and mastery -- think of the classic face-off at high noon between sheriff and outlaw, good and evil, or (inverting the themes) the end of Unforgiven. In a Star Wars setting, the morally resonant weapon is of course the light-saber; in a samurai or Western medieval setting, the sword (no knight ever swore an oath on his morning-star); in a martial arts setting, the well-trained empty hand itself. It's not about simulating combat, it's about the moral meaning of violence.

Now, The Princes' Kingdom doesn't have escalation or the constant threat of grisly violence, appropriately enough, but the question of what "weapon" -- or magic power, or skill, or even symbol -- embodies moral authority is still relevant.



The game is kind of my liberal fantasy....
Who are the major NPCs, and what do they want from the princes?
General Fan Mu: He wants the princes to make him officially the new governor.
Governor Pei: He wants the princes to restore order and tell people he didn't make any mistakes.
Ang (head of the Wulin tribes): He wants the princes to get the Lo Pang to stop eating their sacred fish and let them trade again.

Notice how the military man wants (basically) bad things, the civilian wants a mix of good and bad things, and the Member of the Indigenous Peoples wants only good things? I've noticed this tendency in a bunch of Dogs Actual Play reports where the Mountain People are "played soft" (not always, just often): Even though characters from "our" culture get to be morally complex, of course the oppressed-people-not-like-us are uniformly reasonable and decent. This is a fairly ingrown liberal flinch reaction -- hey, if you read my childhood scifi stories, you'd see it too -- but it's a bit of a cop-out: besides being unrealistic, it takes the pressure off the players by providing one unequivocally sympathetic side. Now if Ang's desires were something like "stop eating our fish, resume trade, and take a newborn infant of your people from its family and give it us to raise as a shaman in order to appease the injured honor of our spirit guardians," that'd put the pressure back on.

Other than that quibble: Cool! I want to play this game. (Ideally I want to play this game with Clinton, but that pesky geography thing gets in the way).
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Robert Bohl
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« Reply #9 on: January 24, 2006, 10:52:45 AM »

I was actually kind of expecting that the Low People had had a violent reaction to their oppression, and that we were going to have to cope with that.  As it turned out that didn't happen, but by the time we hit them we didn't have time for moral complexity anyway.
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Oo! Let's Make a Game!: Joshua A.C. Newman and I make a transhumanist RPG
Andrew Morris
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« Reply #10 on: January 24, 2006, 11:32:21 AM »

Man, I've got to play this game. Clinton described it at the convention, and he had me at "Earthsea in the golden age." A friend, Frank Manna, played it at Dreamation, and had nothing but good stuff to say about it.
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Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #11 on: January 24, 2006, 12:00:12 PM »

Re: Liberal fantasy and the Low People

I did that on purpose to make the scenario less complicated, but yeah, I should totally write GM advice about this problem.

Re: Did kids play?

No. I wish they had. I have to figure out how to find a playtest group with kids.

Re: psychic powers

Huh. You could do that, sure. That sounds neat, but it's not my bag.

Re: the weapon

In TPK, the sword (or spear or dagger, or whatever's sharp and nasty) is the weapon of moral authority. It's appropriately male and phallic. One thing I'm uncomfortable with, but also like, about this game is that it's about what it means to become a man.
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Clinton R. Nixon
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Joshua A.C. Newman
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the glyphpress


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« Reply #12 on: January 24, 2006, 12:06:13 PM »

"Sharp and nasty" = "phallic"?

Geezum crow, dude.

What happens if someone brings along a chakram?
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the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.
Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #13 on: January 24, 2006, 12:24:02 PM »

"Sharp and nasty" = "phallic"?

Geezum crow, dude.

What happens if someone brings along a chakram?

A symbol of negative maleness, man - a penetrator and damager.

Also, I might have gotten a little fruity with my self-analysis above. It's about being a happy kid growing up, and the sharp weapon is the symbol of transformative violence.
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Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games
Robert Bohl
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« Reply #14 on: January 24, 2006, 12:24:42 PM »

I wonder what it says about my subconscious that I chose darts, then.
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Game:
Misspent Youth: Ocean's 11 + Avatar: The Last Airbender + Snow Crash
Shows:
Oo! Let's Make a Game!: Joshua A.C. Newman and I make a transhumanist RPG
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