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Author Topic: [Cranium Rats] Shaky Beginnings.  (Read 6199 times)
Thunder_God
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« on: June 15, 2006, 12:14:55 PM »

So tonight on IRC we've had the first playtest of Cranium Rats, ever. The complete log can be found here.

We've had 3 hours or so, the first hour was taken by generating characters and another 15 mins were taken by the initial Flood Scene for the three characters(Andrew won all three). First lesson: Create pre-made characters for playtest groups, unless you plan to use them again, because then repeated use of own-generated characters is worth it.

The three characters were Rod, an ex-clown, Sarah, a 15 y'o who ran away from home because her puppies would not let her keep a puppy and Annie Whitmore, aka Madam Zurinel, a half-senile fortune teller. I hoped for a group with a higher propensity for violence, but we can make that happen later. The character sheet and situation before we entered the initial Flood Scenes was this.

I set the scene of a rather violent suburbia, in which life progresses normally for the most part.

Selene had set the first scene, where Annie was trying to guilt trip her daughter-in-law to come and visit her, and care about her house more, while her own son tried to get her to leave without hurting her feelings. Things weren't flowing towards conflict fast enough and I had to interject. Annie won and had her way, sitting on the sofa, watching a soap and whining, her daughter in law went to her bedroon, where she started feeling guilty.
The narration of the successful Filip was rather stinted, he kept expecting interjections like when you set up a scene, but that's not the case. You wrap things up or move them yourself to the next Conflict. Need to get players to follow that they have total control and to blaze through it. Filip also has a language barrier which slowed things down.

Filip narrated next scene, with Rod trying to get a drink. I didn't see the conflict appear soon enough, again, and interjected, cutting to some redneck trying to kick Rod out of the bar. Filip controlled the character, and as such could pick whatever method he wanted, even if it is not thematically fitting his Aspect, and he wanted to talk him down and get out. But alas, Andrew wanted to wrest control, and talk Redneck down and leave, this forced Filip to take the Aspect way of his Rat and fight the redneck. Andrew won the bidding and tried to talk the redneck down. I decided it'll be a physical contest though and Andrew lost, Rod got beaten and kicked out, as narrated by Selene.
Andrew though was down to 0 dice in his Die Reservoir, Filip jumped on the opportunity and stole Andrew's non-existant die, plunging him into a Flood Scene where they can once again wrest for control of this Dot, since we knew we'd have to finish afterwards people threw all they had into this, in the end Selene had won, bringing Andrew down to 5 Dots again and increasing herself to 6 Dots for her Aspect of Rod. Andrew and Filip are in a precarious situation though, with 2 and 0(!) dice in their die reservoirs for their Aspects at Rod though.
I gave Rod a whole bunch of Goals to reflect his encounter with the rednecks, most interesting is that I gave him "Avoid Rednecks" under Water, and Filip which resolved his "Get Drunk" Goal(having failed) had to pick another Goal for Rat, he picked "Get Revenge on Rednecks", inter-character Conflict set down in Goals!

This pointed out that I need to find a way to settle different methods; An NPC may want to use Physical while an Aspect wants Social, I think that if the player's call is logical I'll let his method take precedence, since they can exert some control over reality, hmmm.
You will note the many changes the sheet underwent during this very short play if you look at the updated sheet.

Things were fun, Andrew isn't very familiar with Scene Setting and was really excited by this portion, though he was sad he didn't get to narrate anything yet! We decided we'll continue play tomorrow, so hopefully he'll get to narrate then :)
Online made this game rather less fluid, the Currency flow would go much faster if things would be visible, and the time it took to type Narration was a bit prohibitive. I think tomorrow scenes should take 10-20 mins per scene(I figure offline scenes would take 5-13 mins or so). Filip said he enjoyed the conflict and excitement once Stealing began towards the end.
The players not being completely sure of the rules also took some time, but that was expected.

Another interesting point brought up towards the end is that the Enlightened has too much power, and if he's not impartial(as I desire him to be) he could wreck havoc on players, so in order to bring forth tougher opponents(big rednecks, etc) he'll need to spend Tokens. This is a valid point, which I'll have to consider further.

Things were slow, there wasn't enough Conflict(I should've used my Tokens to set the mood and show how it's done, that's why you get 3 more for the first session as The Enlightened...), but it was fun, and it seems like tomorrow would go much better :)

Thoughts, comments?
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Guy Shalev.

Cranium Rats Central, looking for playtesters for my various games.
CSI Games, my RPG Blog and Project. Last Updated on: January 29th 2010
7Storyfall
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« Reply #1 on: June 15, 2006, 08:31:18 PM »

You summed it up pretty well, Guy. I think the game needs to be played out a bit more before I have anything solid beyond the token generation.

I think going with templated NPCs which are purchased or placed in with tokens might be useful. Perhaps a mechanic to allow the aspects to modify scenes?

Such as when the Redneck was going to kick him out, perhaps Filip could've spent a token to give the guy a glass bottle (or something else) which modified his die pool, instead of just saying "+2 dice." Basically, why don't we make the mechanics part of the storytelling? It might slow things down, but it'd also paint a better picture-- and if something can't be written in, then the aspect might not be able to spend the dice or that quantity. Just throwing it out there--  ;)
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Thunder_God
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« Reply #2 on: June 15, 2006, 08:39:59 PM »

It is there, you chose not to use it. "Advantage Dice", you could have decided he has a glass-bottle and give him an additional dice, same as I decided his intoxication and his friends stopped him from listening to Rod, giving him 2 more dice.

I am considering a way to reduce the Enlightened's amount of Tokens instead, hm. Or use a Token to shift the Trait used in a Conflict.
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Guy Shalev.

Cranium Rats Central, looking for playtesters for my various games.
CSI Games, my RPG Blog and Project. Last Updated on: January 29th 2010
Thunder_God
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« Reply #3 on: June 16, 2006, 04:17:30 AM »

There is a way of returning to the old Token scheme, halfway at least:
When the players spend the Tokens to give two dice, it goes to the Enlightened, showing the trade-off. When the players spend a Token to be able to Narrate their Water Aspect's Character or create a Goal, the Token is removed from play instead.

Does that strike you as balancing, considering if you use the Token mechanically, then the Enlightened will be able to do so too?
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Guy Shalev.

Cranium Rats Central, looking for playtesters for my various games.
CSI Games, my RPG Blog and Project. Last Updated on: January 29th 2010
Filip Luszczyk
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« Reply #4 on: June 16, 2006, 06:59:15 AM »

Another problem we had was probably lack of understanding of the metaphysics. Remember how often we had problems with choosing proper goals for the character? It's not very intuitive, especially when it comes to Water.

Quote
Filip also has a language barrier which slowed things down.

That's a fairly marginal thing - I tend to miss words when I'm under time pressure. I remember being a bit irritated when in the middle of writing a sentence I had to check the dictionary for some pretty common verb ;) Stings more during the exams. What really slowed me down back then were rather my slow typing and lack of experience with online gaming. Switching focus between tracking the chat and answering was a pain. Notice that often my answers winded up three or more lines late ;)

Quote
I think going with templated NPCs which are purchased or placed in with tokens might be useful. Perhaps a mechanic to allow the aspects to modify scenes?

This is good solution. Another thing came to my mind. Do the NPCs really need their own stats? The Enlightened could just as well always roll a fixed number of dice (say, 5) with successes at 3 or less. He could make it more difficult by spending Tokens. Notice that very often only one trait of the NPC is going to come into play.

Quote
I am considering a way to reduce the Enlightened's amount of Tokens instead, hm. Or use a Token to shift the Trait used in a Conflict.

I'd rather do the above and increase his number of Tokens slightly. But it might ot be really necessary. The Enlightened has a lot of Tokens anyway, just enough too spend more of them for boosting NPCs.

Quote
It is there, you chose not to use it. "Advantage Dice", you could have decided he has a glass-bottle and give him an additional dice, same as I decided his intoxication and his friends stopped him from listening to Rod, giving him 2 more dice.

Ah yes. Advantage dice are another thing that is too arbitrary - bonus dice from nowhere. If The Enlightened wanted, he could manipulate results as he saw fit by giving advantage bonuses and not accepting the advantages of the other side. I suggest getting rid of these bonuses, and leaving only specialty bonus.

Instead, you could modify how Tokens work a bit, e.g. you don't spend the Token to simply gain 2 dice, but instead you spend the Token to introduce a situational advantage and this gives you these 2 dice. In other words use Tokens to buy advantages, and make The Enlightened to pay for his advantages as well. Mechanically nothing changes, you still get 2 dice per Token, only you have to describe the in-game source of the bonus. But that solves the problem of bonus dice from nowhere which could be unbalancing.

The problem is that you have competitive game, and there are three persons competing bounded by the rules at the table, and one person that can mess with the game however she likes. Imagine playing chess when there is someone who can move your and your opponents pieces on the board according to his whim, whenever he feels like it. Either have a neutral umpire who can't really affect the game, or make The Enlightened an active side in the competition, but make him work within the rules like the others engaged.

Quote
When the players spend the Tokens to give two dice, it goes to the Enlightened, showing the trade-off. When the players spend a Token to be able to Narrate their Water Aspect's Character or create a Goal, the Token is removed from play instead.

Why the Token would be removed from play in this particular instance, and given to GM in every other case?

Quote
Does that strike you as balancing, considering if you use the Token mechanically, then the Enlightened will be able to do so too?

Do you know the Drama mechanics from 7th Sea? Something similar would solve the problem here. When you spend the Token it goes to the GM, but not immediately - at the beginning of the next player's turn (or maybe with the next conflict). Right now whenever you spend the Token to gain 2 dice, The Enlightened can remove the same Token from the game to level the field - and this causes possible problems.
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Thunder_God
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« Reply #5 on: June 16, 2006, 07:11:57 AM »

Another problem we had was probably lack of understanding of the metaphysics. Remember how often we had problems with choosing proper goals for the character? It's not very intuitive, especially when it comes to Water.
Or, because you wanted to have Water do something, but Water is passive, it tends to do much less. But yes, it's rather personal as is right now.

Quote
I think going with templated NPCs which are purchased or placed in with tokens might be useful. Perhaps a mechanic to allow the aspects to modify scenes?

This is good solution. Another thing came to my mind. Do the NPCs really need their own stats? The Enlightened could just as well always roll a fixed number of dice (say, 5) with successes at 3 or less. He could make it more difficult by spending Tokens. Notice that very often only one trait of the NPC is going to come into play.

Quote
I am considering a way to reduce the Enlightened's amount of Tokens instead, hm. Or use a Token to shift the Trait used in a Conflict.

I'd rather do the above and increase his number of Tokens slightly. But it might ot be really necessary. The Enlightened has a lot of Tokens anyway, just enough too spend more of them for boosting NPCs.
I also thought of this solution, where the GM rolls 5 dice, difficulty of 3 or under, seems rather nice to me. And clean.

Quote
It is there, you chose not to use it. "Advantage Dice", you could have decided he has a glass-bottle and give him an additional dice, same as I decided his intoxication and his friends stopped him from listening to Rod, giving him 2 more dice.

Ah yes. Advantage dice are another thing that is too arbitrary - bonus dice from nowhere. If The Enlightened wanted, he could manipulate results as he saw fit by giving advantage bonuses and not accepting the advantages of the other side. I suggest getting rid of these bonuses, and leaving only specialty bonus.

Instead, you could modify how Tokens work a bit, e.g. you don't spend the Token to simply gain 2 dice, but instead you spend the Token to introduce a situational advantage and this gives you these 2 dice. In other words use Tokens to buy advantages, and make The Enlightened to pay for his advantages as well. Mechanically nothing changes, you still get 2 dice per Token, only you have to describe the in-game source of the bonus. But that solves the problem of bonus dice from nowhere which could be unbalancing.
This is like Stunts in Exalted. 99% of the time Advantage Dice will get accepted, you need to bring them up yourself, I'm trying to use them to create a way for players to affect the scene, introduce new elements, get involved. Right now, only I had used them, just like it usually go in the first few sessions of Exalted. Use them, get your own free dice out of nowhere!

The problem is that you have competitive game, and there are three persons competing bounded by the rules at the table, and one person that can mess with the game however she likes. Imagine playing chess when there is someone who can move your and your opponents pieces on the board according to his whim, whenever he feels like it. Either have a neutral umpire who can't really affect the game, or make The Enlightened an active side in the competition, but make him work within the rules like the others engaged.
I think he works under the rules. He should be impartial, as in, feels the same towards all players. However, he can be against all the other players equally. He also has a metaphysical role, which is only hinted at.

Quote
When the players spend the Tokens to give two dice, it goes to the Enlightened, showing the trade-off. When the players spend a Token to be able to Narrate their Water Aspect's Character or create a Goal, the Token is removed from play instead.

Why the Token would be removed from play in this particular instance, and given to GM in every other case?

When you use the Goals to benefit mechanically, the Enlightened also gets the Tokens, in order to balance things, so the overall effect is "0". Whereas if you affect the story, you don't give more power to The Enlightened, you're doing what he's doing, and to make the story-controlling ability of the Tokens more lucrative.


Do you know the Drama mechanics from 7th Sea? Something similar would solve the problem here. When you spend the Token it goes to the GM, but not immediately - at the beginning of the next player's turn (or maybe with the next conflict). Right now whenever you spend the Token to gain 2 dice, The Enlightened can remove the same Token from the game to level the field - and this causes possible problems.
That's a good solution. I'll consider it.
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Guy Shalev.

Cranium Rats Central, looking for playtesters for my various games.
CSI Games, my RPG Blog and Project. Last Updated on: January 29th 2010
Selene Tan
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« Reply #6 on: June 16, 2006, 07:30:49 AM »

Quote
This is like Stunts in Exalted. 99% of the time Advantage Dice will get accepted, you need to bring them up yourself, I'm trying to use them to create a way for players to affect the scene, introduce new elements, get involved. Right now, only I had used them, just like it usually go in the first few sessions of Exalted. Use them, get your own free dice out of nowhere!
I believe what Filip wants is something similar to Universalis, where when you spend Coins for a Complication, you have to justify their purchase. This would be instead of or in addition to the Advantage Die system.

I haven't quite wrapped my head around the flow of tokens and dice and whatnot in the game, so I'm not yet able to think very strategically about it. This might just be me. I also haven't managed to figure out what kinds of goals count as Rat, Dirt, or Water. The text is deliberately vague in its descriptions of the three aspects, but later when I proposed a goal for Dirt, Guy said "Yeah, that's a Dirt goal, but I want you to explain it to me," which made me feel like there was a hidden set of rules I was supposed to have figured out.

When it was somebody's turn to narrate, I got the sense around the, uh, "table" that people felt like they weren't supposed to "interfere" by giving suggestions, and that the person narrating had to come up with stuff totally on their own. I find that kind of stressful. I prefer the freer method where the person narrating has final say, but everybody can give suggestions. I do think this was a group issue rather than a game issue.

I found the flow of character creation a little bit odd in the beginning. The rules say that the player for the character's Dirt aspect comes up with a basic character concept with a maximum of one sentence, and that suggestions from other players were allowed. What happened was that the player would come up with a concept, we'd sort of expand and explore the concept, trying to find something interesting to everybody, and then Guy would say "Hey, remember to keep it short."  This made me feel like the initial character concept was already supposed to be the final one or something, with no discussion or anything, and that bothered me. Also, I dislike how the characters start out with very few details; this put me at a loss later when I needed to narrate a starting scene.

Scene framing felt awkward to me. I was supposed to narrate line by line so that people would have a chance to interrupt. The game rules say:
Quote
1) Enlightened Sets general stage.
2) Rat/Dirt pick Goal, Narrate Scene.
3) When a Conflict of interest or a conflict of interests arise, or any of the Aspects wants
something to happen they interject; Roll the Dice or Say Yes.
4) When a Conflict between the character and an NPC occurs and the dice are rolled, OR
when the different Aspects strive for different goals, Roll the Dice.
5) Water Narrates results according to Stakes.
The way it came out in play, it felt like Guy was expecting us to narrate straight to conflicts within the first two sentences. He seemed impatient with attempts to, you know, set the scene, and called us "conflict-averse". I mean, sure, there was some of that too, but when he said that I felt put-upon. Part of this was probably the medium, but I think I would have liked to be explicitly told "think of a conflict and frame to it", rather than "frame a scene and keep going until someone thinks there's a conflict," with a hidden "but don't take too long."
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Thunder_God
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« Reply #7 on: June 16, 2006, 07:50:22 AM »

Valid reply Selene!

I assumed that you people understood that this is all about Conflict, things either lead to Conflict or result from it. Everything other than Conflict is background colour. I hope things will go better tonight once we've all bridged this gap.

I have no problems with you switching the Concept in CharGen, but I don't want it explored before game-play. Game-play is when it is explored. Look at Annie, we now know she has a son, Frank. Do we know if she's married, if she has grandchildren, more children, etc? No, that's left for you people to narrate according to what the game dictates. The more you describe before gameplay - the more constraints you put on what could follow.

As to Conflict narration, sorry if I were pushy, but this is how I see it: Have a Conflict in mind, strive towards it, you don't have to introduce it even in 10 lines, BUT! Every two-three lines present an opportunity for Conflict, so people could interject.
Let's create an example, suppose Rod wants to get a drink. You want the conflict to be that he lost his ID Card and thus the bartender doesn't want to give him alcohol, but while narrating towards it you also mention how he annoys a nearby Redneck, people could interject, or not, but make opportunities for Conflict apparent.

As to Aspects, I hope it'll be clearer as time passes. Now, there is no hidden reason to that Goal, I just thought that the reasonings was a bit elusive, so I wanted to hear your logic. When things aren't clear-cut, I want to see what you think the reasons is, to see what needs further clarification and what doesn't, what is grokked and what isn't.

Hope I'm not too abrasive, and that this clears things up!
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Guy Shalev.

Cranium Rats Central, looking for playtesters for my various games.
CSI Games, my RPG Blog and Project. Last Updated on: January 29th 2010
Thunder_God
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« Reply #8 on: June 17, 2006, 12:23:13 AM »

In this log you can see some additional discussion resulting from the playtest, which showcases some gaps in perception and anticipation. This also showcases that the game is not for all people.
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Guy Shalev.

Cranium Rats Central, looking for playtesters for my various games.
CSI Games, my RPG Blog and Project. Last Updated on: January 29th 2010
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