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Author Topic: [Cranium Rats] A Clash of Worlds, the Medium War.  (Read 4974 times)
Thunder_God
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« on: July 09, 2006, 09:51:32 AM »

This session continued the playtest which is described here. Here are the Playtest log and the Character sheet for how things looked at the end of the game.At the end of the playtest log you can read our post-game discussion, which was rather enlightening. Session lasted for about an hour and 45 minutes before Andrew had to leave.

Selene Tan had been replaced by Michael, my best friend. He wasn't totally boned on the rules, he was set up on my brother's computer, so I could help him if necessary. Michael shares my feelings on games, much of my gaming(and almost all of my card/board gaming) is with him. He kept nodding when he originally read the game.

We continued from where we left off last session. Andrew had Narration rights, and it was either a scene for Annie or paying a Token in order to set up a scene for Sarah, which he opted to do. He expressed his interest and excitement over setting scenes last time, when he didn't get to do so. He set the scene up as Sarah was approached by a cop, the cop wanted to question Sarah and Sarah wanted to run away. If Sarah would win her Physical test, she'd escape, if the Cop won his Social test, he'd get Sarah to talk to him. Sarah won and Andrew as Water also got Narration(need to consider if this is cool, having Water Narrate both to Conflict and from it, but then again, he pays a Token, so it seems right), where he had the cop trip and fall down, which stopped me from initiating a purely Physical Conflict as the cop gave chase.
During this Conflict, Filip kept suggesting Advantages, I declined most of them and eventually just moved people to roll the dice.

Then we came around a full circle, and it was my turn to set up the scene. I continued describing the city where this all takes place. As a continuation and escalation of the gang-war, there's been a bombing near(of?) the shelter where Sarah was heading, and the cop from the other day suffered injuries, a moment after noticing Sarah. Annie's daughter-in-law, which she wants to clean her house had been shopping nearby and suffered from PTSD.

Next up was Filip, who tried to sell his Narration rights, but no one was buying. He set a scene for Rod, and he tied himself to Sarah by seeing her as he was driving(moments before said explosion). He missed his job interview due to traffics and getting up late and went to the park, where he parked illegally. This started a Conflict with the cop, with Rod trying to convince the cop to let him off(after Michael wrested control from Filip, who was going to lie actively to the cop) and the cop not wanting to let him off, and additionally, if the cop won, he'd notice the smell of alcohol on Rod's clothes. The cop won, resulting in a Flood Scene, with Filip ending up losing an Aspect Dot and Michael winning another one, putting him at 7, Andrew at 5 and Filip at 4. There was much action in the Flood Scene. Afterwards we moved immediately into another Conflict for Rod, where he wants to convince the cop he drunk after parking, and if the cop won then Rod would go to jail.
Rod lost, to custody he went, Social went down by one, as Filip wanted, so that next time a Social Conflict for Rod fails, Michael would lose an Aspect dot. And we ended there, with time running out.

Michael constantly kept trying to wrest control, but his control of the system put some wrenches in it, eventually he did well. Michael also was indecisive to begin with, he said, "Hmm, I bid 3 dice?" and "I may want to wrest control..." instead of "I bid 3 dice" and "I try to wrest control by...!", I noogied him and it went alright.
Andrew said that the time you need to wait between your own actions is too long.
Filip kept trying to push things competitively, where I moved them a bit more towards Story, creating a clash. I'll let him elaborate on his position.

The playtest sealed some subjects. I will talk of mechanical changes it's leading me to after the players would have their piece. It's clear that IRC is NOT the medium of choice for this game, it's too slow, it's too cumbersome, it doesn't let you "Cut in" while others are narrating.
I also need to see how the game goes without me being there, since I kept things moving rapidly, without letting them wind down and get stuck in the rules.

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
Filip Luszczyk
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« Reply #1 on: July 10, 2006, 02:31:43 PM »

Okay then, I didn't notice any new problems in the game this time, and some issues that arose during the first playtest were corrected.

There were two things during the session that made me very unhappy as a player, though. This is connected with the GM role issues, which were previously pointed at by me and too some extent by John Kirk's analysis.

First of all, after the first playtest you suggested that advantage bonuses work practically like embellishments in Wushu, and obviously I tried to make use of these rules this time. But you rejected almost all of advantages proposed by me, explaining that "you know my intents". Well, my intents were Gamist, and Gamism is the default agenda to follow in CR, for players at least - the text of the game makes it clear on the first pages. Turns out, I've been punished for doing what I most obviously ought to do in this game - trying to gain advantage over other players and win.

Of course, this was partially player-GM issue, but it is the game that makes it possible for such issues to arise, and thus this is also the problem of the System.

Another thing that made me angry - for the whole game I've been saving my Tokens in order to buy as many goals as possible at the end. And then, surprise, surprise, both Mike and Andrew get some goals from The Enlightened, for free. They used their Tokens, and gained them back the moment later. That completely unbalanced things, since I was at a disadvantage anyway. So now they have even greater advantage over me in future competition.

So, we have this competition going on, but the referee is not fair. The Enlightened is not impartial enough in CR. All the time I feel like playing chess with someone from the audience moving my pieces according to his whim. Such situation discourages me from trying my best to compete, just like playing with illusionist GM would discourage me from trying to make any important decisions. No matter what I do and no matter how good my strategy is, I have absolutely no guarantee that it will matter in the end.

Now, you explain that it is the role of The Enlightened to guide the story. But this creates an incoherence.

Oh, you might say that players can have different goals while playing CR, and I say that it isn't so. Or, it is, but doesn't change anything - one could just as well sit on a session of DitV only to accumulate Traits on the sheet, with total disregard for moral issues, or play D&D to deeply immerse in the character, ignoring all those things waiting to be killed and robbed ;) Of course, it is possible, but it doesn't mean that the person plays the right game for what she wants to do.

The goal for the players is explicitly stated in Cranium Rats - page 4, footnote: "Fuck that lie. Play for the Win!".

Overall, you're trying to make a hybrid game but a hybrid is impossible if you have two agendas clashing on the same field. It's impossible to do one's best to win and still take into account what would be best for the story, if the later is connected with non-optimal performance in the competition. The key is to make it possible to go all-out in the competition with no damage to the story that is woven around players struggle. Otherwise, the game will generate dysfunctions.
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Thunder_God
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« Reply #2 on: July 13, 2006, 02:51:56 PM »

First of all, after the first playtest you suggested that advantage bonuses work practically like embellishments in Wushu, and obviously I tried to make use of these rules this time. But you rejected almost all of advantages proposed by me, explaining that "you know my intents". Well, my intents were Gamist, and Gamism is the default agenda to follow in CR, for players at least - the text of the game makes it clear on the first pages. Turns out, I've been punished for doing what I most obviously ought to do in this game - trying to gain advantage over other players and win.

Of course, this was partially player-GM issue, but it is the game that makes it possible for such issues to arise, and thus this is also the problem of the System.
I have to clarify. I didn't reject your Advantages for that reason. I just said that I understood what you were trying to do. I stopped you after you suggested about 4-5 Advantages, because, as you said: The Advantages come from nowhere, and in order to get the most benefit there was no reason for you not to generate even 20 Advantages.
After last playtest you said you found several holes(and several things which aren't). I told you, "Cool, show me by exploiting it in-game", which you did admirably with the Advantages. Once something is broken, there is no reason to let it ruin the playtest session, so I curtailed it and went onwards. You will remember from last session and other occasions during this session that I keep things moving forward at a pretty fast pace. I have a solution for this problem, but I'll discuss it after Andrew and Michael get their chances to comment.

I would have said, "Players shouldn't be asses and should know when it's enough", but then again, that's bull. If the system can support it, then it will be done. Also, the moment I put Conflict as the focus, rather than Story or Colour, I should expect players trying to win. I guess that's one of the reasons Tony sells Capes as a Superhero game rather than a game about Conflict.
You are right, if I don't want people to pull their punches, then I don't need to include the option of throwing a punch.

Another thing that made me angry - for the whole game I've been saving my Tokens in order to buy as many goals as possible at the end. And then, surprise, surprise, both Mike and Andrew get some goals from The Enlightened, for free. They used their Tokens, and gained them back the moment later. That completely unbalanced things, since I was at a disadvantage anyway. So now they have even greater advantage over me in future competition.

So, we have this competition going on, but the referee is not fair. The Enlightened is not impartial enough in CR. All the time I feel like playing chess with someone from the audience moving my pieces according to his whim. Such situation discourages me from trying my best to compete, just like playing with illusionist GM would discourage me from trying to make any important decisions. No matter what I do and no matter how good my strategy is, I have absolutely no guarantee that it will matter in the end.
First, I don't see why you feel "Anger", this was a playtest, and you can expect things not to work. But I'll take it as a compliment that you care this much!
The Enlightened doesn't have this much control over the system. He can't "pull the pieces" on the board. His powers are relatively few and I don't believe that one Token unsettled things as much as you paint it to be("That completely unbalanced things"). It is also important to remember that each Character is its own battle-field, so being at a disadvantage somewhere means little elsewhere. I could just as well have given you a Goal on another character and not them, but Session time ran out.

I gave them the Goals because that's what sprang up in my mind, if I had an idea for giving Rat a Goal I would. Are you sure your emotions over the matter don't stem from a continuation of the Advantage deal? This is still a problem, but not the same. Also, I feel it important to stress out. They got nothing "For free", it was paid for, the fact it was paid for by The Enlightened is important, but it's a far cry from free.

The Enlightened's role is still a bit problematic, I agree. I am loathe to remove him though, but I keep giving the issue thought. Another solution is what we discussed, in returning the two types of Tokens: Where you begin with Story Tokens, and if you get a Story Token you can use it Mechanically, and when you give a character a Goal it's "invested". This will force people to do things that get them Tokens, but people may not give others Story Tokens then, since it gives other players mechanical powers.
In the end, people will have to accept some Cooperation and on some level strive <I>together</I> for the sake of Story. If they think only of victory, then the story and game will suffer.

Now, you explain that it is the role of The Enlightened to guide the story. But this creates an incoherence.

Oh, you might say that players can have different goals while playing CR, and I say that it isn't so. Or, it is, but doesn't change anything - one could just as well sit on a session of DitV only to accumulate Traits on the sheet, with total disregard for moral issues, or play D&D to deeply immerse in the character, ignoring all those things waiting to be killed and robbed ;) Of course, it is possible, but it doesn't mean that the person plays the right game for what she wants to do.

The goal for the players is explicitly stated in Cranium Rats - page 4, footnote: "Fuck that lie. Play for the Win!".
The Enlightened is also a player, whose goal is different. Also, Footnotes are my personal space, you will note how almost all of them deal with allegories and/or take a comical stance on things. I say the Footnote, but I also say the main-body text.

Overall, you're trying to make a hybrid game but a hybrid is impossible if you have two agendas clashing on the same field. It's impossible to do one's best to win and still take into account what would be best for the story, if the later is connected with non-optimal performance in the competition. The key is to make it possible to go all-out in the competition with no damage to the story that is woven around players struggle. Otherwise, the game will generate dysfunctions.
This issue deserves more thought. What if you can't have a hybrid <I>without</I> two agendas? Maybe you need friction in order for advancement?
I don't have the answers, these are questions.
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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 #3 on: July 14, 2006, 09:38:45 PM »

This session was much shorter than the last one, but I think in terms of dynamics it ran smoother.

Again, the game seems slow. I don't know if it is the venue or what, but it seems it may take a lot of scenes before the game reaches conclusion. Since a scene can take up to an hour, and it may take twenty or thirty scenes to close a competitive game... that's a real long time. Do you think the game should last this long? What about being able to reduce the time of the game by giving the option to lower the maximum to 6 and the starting balance at 3?

Filip really covered most of the issues I had, otherwise. How advantages are distributed can be a little odd, such as people suggesting them or arguing against them in a hurry, with the Enlightened arbitrating. I think it would have greater potential and be more fun in real life. We definitely need a better venue for the playtests :/

-Andrew

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Thunder_God
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« Reply #4 on: July 15, 2006, 03:40:55 AM »

I can't tell how long it'd take till we'll get a game "Finished".

I plan for a scene to take no more than 20 minutes, multiple Conflicts and Flood Scenes and all in real life, and even if your session is only 2 hours long, that means 30 scenes for the end only take 5 sessions. Not unacceptable. Starting lower and finishing lower is surely an option, but first, we need to see how long it actually takes using the default.

Andrew, what did you enjoy in the session, what didn't you enjoy, from a personal perspective?
Also, I didn't talk with you regarding the issues Filip and I discussed(at length), so I'd like to hear your perspective on the GM, Advantage, Tokens and all that jazz.

We need to consider using Skype for the next session, accents and all.
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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 #5 on: July 15, 2006, 01:49:54 PM »

I have no microphone... but otherwise Skype would be great.

What did I enjoy? I enjoyed the dynamics of the game and the competitive nature of it. I think it is a solid foundation if the game hits a rhythm that I'm not sure if we hit. If we could get 4 good scenes in an hour, I think the game would be rather engrossing-- I keep falling back on this time issue. I think it does a lot to the game.

I like the arrangement of three people and the Enlightened it is just worrying if the Englightened can be a fair referee in the process of the game. I know you can, but given how he can have a severe influence on the game, perhaps it could be setup that the next time the game is played, the "losing" individual, the one with the least aspect dots total at the conclusion of the game, is the next Enlightened individual or he can pass it on to the 2nd place person if he wishes to play as an aspect.

I really do agree with a lot of what Filip said, and really think there is no need to repeat it.
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Filip Luszczyk
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« Reply #6 on: July 16, 2006, 03:35:49 PM »

Quote
First, I don't see why you feel "Anger", this was a playtest, and you can expect things not to work. But I'll take it as a compliment that you care this much!

Er, my word choice wasn't very good - "uncomfortable" would fit better. And yes, I can expect things to not work during the playtest - from the game. Here, it wasn't really the game that made me upset, but player's decision (that was by chance allowed by the game, although I feel it shouldn't be).

Quote
The Enlightened doesn't have this much control over the system. He can't "pull the pieces" on the board. His powers are relatively few and I don't believe that one Token unsettled things as much as you paint it to be("That completely unbalanced things"). It is also important to remember that each Character is its own battle-field, so being at a disadvantage somewhere means little elsewhere. I could just as well have given you a Goal on another character and not them, but Session time ran out.

Yes, it run out and you didn't do it, so what does it mean that you could? Also, you could, but you didn't really have to do it. The game doesn't force you to keep things balanced, and it's a matter of your whim and nothing more.

Also, at the end of the game you had around 10 Tokens in your pool. What would stop you from giving them all to one of the players? Well, I think that you would stop yourself, but consider that you (hopefully) won't be The Enlightened in every game of CR that is going to be played out there someday.

So, imagine you have this group consisting of Bob, Mary, John and Susie. Mary is Bob's girlfriend, and Bob is The Enlightened. Bob favors Mary and wants her to win. And Mary actually doesn't mind it at all, since she also wants to win, and no matter what way. So, Bob uses all his Tokens to give Mary bonuses and goals. John and Susie don't get anything, and they've come there for a night of fair, engaging competition.

How would they feel?

Of course, this is a matter of social contract. But CR doesn't really tell The Enlightened what to do with his Tokens and how to use them. So he might just as well use them to favor people he likes. Or to piss of people whom he doesn't like. Most people are biased somehow to some extent.

BTW, what was The Enlightened's role in the game again, because I just realised that it isn't actually explained explicitly anywhere? (or I forgot where it is, that's possible too)

Quote
They got nothing "For free", it was paid for, the fact it was paid for by The Enlightened is important, but it's a far cry from free.

Examine the currency flow here.

They spent their Tokens for mechanical gain. Then you got those Tokens. And you gave those Tokens back to them, in the form of goals. This allows them to gain those Tokens back, and again, use the resource for mechanical gains. And possibly, they get it back once more.

Now, I had a plan. The plan was to save as many Tokens till the end of the game and purchase goals with them. During the whole game I've spent maybe one Token. That should give me two goals, and consequently two potential Tokens to harvest when I need them in the future. Two more than others would have. I saved to make an investment that was allowed by the rules and that should give me predictable gain. It gave me only half of the gain, since instead of two potential Tokens advantage, I have only 1 potential Token advantage. That's after I resigned from mechanical gains (e.g. I could have win the bidding for the dot with those Tokens) to make a specific investment, while others where spending their Tokens like mad. They got both mechanical bonuses and goals. I got only goals, and the impact of my strategy was softened by an unpredictable* outside force that wasn't even really interested in the competition.

The Enlightened has the power to negate your efforts and make your strategy irrelevant. So, why strategies in the first place?

Let's say you play Settlers of Catan, and I stand by the table, from time to time adding some resources to one of the players, on the basis of what I consider more aesthetic arrangement of tokens on the table. How would that play?

*Dice are random. People can be at most unpredictable.

Quote
The Enlightened's role is still a bit problematic, I agree. I am loathe to remove him though, but I keep giving the issue thought.

Removal of The Enlightened is only one of the possible solutions (though very comfortable one, since it also lowers the minimum number of players needed for the game). Another options include making him involved in the competition as a fully active player (and consequently constraining him like the rest) or making him a fully neutral referee, or maybe a narrator, with no direct impact on the competition.

Quote
In the end, people will have to accept some Cooperation and on some level strive <I>together</I> for the sake of Story. If they think only of victory, then the story and game will suffer.

The whole point is to make it possible to think only of victory, and at the same time produce a good story. No sacrifices for the story should be needed, just as it shouldn't be required to sacrifice the story for the win. As long as one stands in the way of the other, you won't get both in full, unfortunately.

Quote
This issue deserves more thought. What if you can't have a hybrid <I>without</I> two agendas? Maybe you need friction in order for advancement?

Okay. Explain how the friction between trying to win and trying to tell a story can produce more food for strategizing, and how it can produce more food for the story-telling. If the friction doesn't feed both, there will be no functional hybridity.

Quote
Again, the game seems slow. I don't know if it is the venue or what, but it seems it may take a lot of scenes before the game reaches conclusion.

Yes, this also worries me a bit. It would be faster IRL for sure, but it still looks slow to me.

Especially, I think that aspect marks are gained too slowly. Notice, that we barely got any during two sessions. You need so many of them, and one lost conflict means starting from the scratch. Somehow, I can't imagine people getting Flood Scenes being common in the game, and consequently unclaimed dots will probably most often remain unclaimed for a long, long time. Provided that the characters get damaged and there will be a substantial loss of Aspect dots, it may happen that players get stuck at around 4 Aspect for many sessions, struggling to put their hands at those unclaimed dots and not making any real progress. This could prolong the game for more than the expected 5 sessions, and I doubt such games would be very rewarding.

For now, loosing all marks after one conflict seems to me too harsh, and it might be good idea to come back to that issue again (when it was discussed we had no actual experience with the gameplay).

What comes to my mind - it could be good to accelerate gaining marks (and possibly lower the penalty for loosing a conflict), e.g. by connecting it to the goals. For example, completing a goal could give you not only the Token, but also a mark. Or a choice between gaining a mark or a Token. Or, achievement could produce marks and failure Tokens, or the other way. Or something like that.

Quote
I have no microphone... but otherwise Skype would be great.

Buy yourself one ;) They are not very expensive and quite useful.

I played some Skype sessions this week, and they went at a pace pretty similar to real life games. Lack of face to face contact was a bit uncomfortable, but still better than IRC. The problem is that Guy has his accent, and my English pronunciation sucks all the way, so the results of such session are rather tough to predict ;)
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Thunder_God
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« Reply #7 on: July 26, 2006, 01:01:40 PM »

My latest "lightbulb" moment had been last Thursday, the realization that Social Contract deserves to be put as an integral part of the game text, decidedly so for highly competitive games.

As such, and this is the whole point about the triangle/square issue, the Enlightened should be the most objective of the group, not the one who knows the rules best. If you have 3 players who know one another, and one outsider, then the outsider will take the role of the Enlightened.
Also, please review the latest bunch of Capes topics, especially Ralph Mazza(Valamir)'s post on the matter, as they hold true. If people are asshats, then nothing can protect you from it, you need to assume that people won't be asshats, and that the rules will not be broken when people are not asshats(I'm sorry, but games where the GM lets the girlfriend have anything go her way and screws everyone else over? The GM is an asshat and in violation of Social Contract).

Are you asking about the Enlightened's in-game-world role or his role in the game as a system-mechanic role?

Your plan isn't fool-proof, you knew I could do what I did, it's not like I created a new rule which was sprang upon you. I also don't think the mechanical importance of this is that great. I will start a new thread on Token Economics on Friday, based on issues raised over the two playtest sessions we've had.

I have no answer for the friction question, I posted it as a question/musing of my own, not as a statement.

Yes, Aspect Marks are gained too slowly. How does the idea of gaining Aspect Marks at the same rate of gaining Dice sound? You gain one Mark/Dice per success you gain over the opposition?

Also, doing Aspects from 0 to 5, with starting point of 3 won't work, I gave it some thought. The system is self-balancing, it'd only make you more likely to lose. But doing Beginning Aspect==5, Winning Condition==8 and treating 2==0 might work. Notice how after only 7 scenes or so we already have an Aspect at 7. 7 scenes could and should easily be one session, or one session and a bit.
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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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