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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 81 - most online ever: 565 (October 17, 2020, 02:08:06 PM)
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Author Topic: [Grey Ranks] Dreamation Playtests  (Read 11341 times)
Jason Morningstar
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« on: January 29, 2007, 08:47:01 AM »

If you played Grey Ranks at Dreamation I particularly invite your feedback here!

I ran two sessions of Grey Ranks at Dreamation 2007, Friday and Saturday from 9AM to 1PM.  It was an early slot but I was gratified by a large sign-up.  Friday ended up having four players (I facilitated and observed) and Saturday had three (plus me - I played). 

I asked both groups why they chose to participate, and the reasons varied - some were interested in seeing "what was new" and being a part of a playtest, one was interested in the time and place, one the thematic content, and a couple were drawn by The Roach and wanted to see what I was up to next.  Emily Care Boss participated as a friend and colleague, and was one of three people I'd previously known that played.  Everybody was engaged and excited to participate.

I began each session with a general overview of the game's background, and a lines and veils discussion.  This is part of the procedure of play and I really think it is essential - an example of why follows.  For the convention games I ran Scenes 5, 6 and 7 for each group, out of a desire to provide a challenging and entertaining session.  As stand-alone sessions without continuity, Act One and Act Three tend to be a little flat, since adversity is either mild or outrageous in turn.  I think this will be fine for play as intended (three sessions), but I didn't want to subject con players to either extreme. 

Both sessions hit their stride and provided pretty satisfying play, which was heartening.  There were dramatic moments and tragedy, and each group found their own mix of personal and mission intensity and involvement, which was especially useful to contrast across two days for me.  The first group was significantly darker than the second. 

There was an excellent moment I'll relate as an example.  In the first playtest one player (A) chose "My First Love" as the Thing his character Held Dear.  He chose another player (B)'s character as the object of his adoration, and both players were explicitly cool with that.  Both players and both characters were male.  Late in the session A had invoked the Thing He Held Dear for a mechanical bonus, and found himself in desperate straits again.  He chose to destroy the Thing He Held Dear, and we all agreed that this would mean savage rejection.  The two players set up a scene, A's character unburdened his heart, and B, in character, cruelly tore into him - calling him a fag, telling him he was ashamed, and saying that if he could, he'd pin a pink triangle on him and send him to the Germans.  It was ugly and shocking, and I was enormously glad we'd had the lines and veils discussion, because everybody was ready for it and completely engaged.  It was a really tragic, satisfying moment of play. 

I learned a lot and I'm really grateful to the playtesters at Dreamation - thanks, everybody!  I'd very much like to hear your thoughts on the game, its strengths and weaknesses, what confused you and what excited you, and the experience you had with it.
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Bret Gillan
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That's Bret with one 't' damn it.


« Reply #1 on: January 29, 2007, 11:00:51 AM »

This game is a big deal to me. It was my game of the convention, and I am definitely grabbing it when it comes out. I think I realized how important this game is when I was talking to my girlfriend on the phone from the convention and I said, "I just got done playing a child soldier in the Warsaw Uprising." When do you say something like instead of "I was a knight" or "I was a vampire"? This is one of those games like Breaking the Ice or Contenders that needs to exist so we can point at it when people talk about games being about dragons and lasers. Also, it was just plain great.

I think the thing that thrilled me the most about the game is the built-in maturity mechanics. Your characters start off awkward and immature, and end up confident and capable. Which then makes their ultimate demise even more tragic. This part of the game is what wow'ed me the most.

In terms of weakness as it currently exists, I'm not sure I buy into the competitive aspects of the game as being necessary or even desirable. The pooling of the dice and the ability to burn other people's Held Dear don't strike me as adding anything to the game, and in a situation where the PCs are inevitably going to be beat down I don't feel the urge to add competitiveness to the difficulties of the game - I just want to band together and sympathize with mine and everyone else's characters. And in the game we played, I didn't really get a competitive vibe at all.

I was confused by the "flipping the score" effect of Grid movement when you're on the edge. Going from extremely enthusiastic to totally exhausted or likewise full of love to full of hate surprised me when at all other times movement is more gradual. I'm not saying it doesn't make sense or that it's a bad thing, but it threw me when it occurred in the game and I'm not sure how I feel about it.

Overall, though, this is a really strong game and if you published it right now I would not be dissatisfied.
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Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #2 on: January 29, 2007, 12:26:44 PM »

Thanks Bret, for your kind words.  I'm really glad you had a good time playing. 

It's interesting that you picked up on the competitive aspects - mechanically the game would work fine without them.  I put them there to add pressure to an already impossible situation, with the hopes that minor betrayals and selfishness would add up to create serious and interesting intra-group conflicts.  Like you, I have not seen this happen yet, but perhaps unlike you, I really want to!

The grid issue is sort of a thorn, because it does create some causality challenges for players - why am I suddenly filled with hate?  My hope is that those abrupt shocks spur creativity, but I'm open to other suggestions for how a character moves when they hit an edge - any thoughts on other solutions? 
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Robert Bohl
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« Reply #3 on: January 29, 2007, 12:44:54 PM »

I basically entirely agree with what Bret said, but if you want the potential for backstabbing to be there, it might be difficult to see it realized with the enormous odds arrayed against them.  I don't really have an answer for what to do with the grid-flipping, except perhaps that if you can get stuck on an extreme and unable to go further.  The only time "you can't go further" would matter would be if you're at one of the vertices of extremity, in which case doubling up woul cause you to go boom.

I'm curious what happens players when their characters die.  Do they just sit out?  Do they make a new character?

--

I quite enjoyed the game and am sorry I had to cut out early, but I was satisfied with the fact that it allowed us to see the "death" mechanics.  I was also very happy with the character I created.  The German-named, German-hating thing was a hell of a lot of fun.  The gay angst and the crushing of the guy-to-my-right's youthful exuberance were great too.
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Oo! Let's Make a Game!: Joshua A.C. Newman and I make a transhumanist RPG
Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #4 on: January 29, 2007, 12:54:49 PM »

I'm curious what happens players when their characters die.  Do they just sit out?  Do they make a new character?
Hey Rob, I liked your guy so much I basically stole him as my own character for the second playtest! 

I need to state it in the rules, but if your character is written out of the story (death, capture, 18th birthday, whatever) you still get mission and personal vignettes, but they are about your absence rather than your presence.  And you are still there to play NPCs, help with color, add Situation, and so forth. 
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Robert Bohl
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« Reply #5 on: January 29, 2007, 12:58:59 PM »

I'm curious what happens players when their characters die.  Do they just sit out?  Do they make a new character?
Hey Rob, I liked your guy so much I basically stole him as my own character for the second playtest! 

Wow, I'm all floaty.

Quote from: I need to state it in the rules, but if your character is written out of the story (death, capture, 18th birthday, whatever) you still get mission and personal vignettes, but they are about your absence rather than your presence.  And you are still there to play NPCs, help with color, add Situation, and so forth. 
[/quote

Gotcha.  That seems like a reasonable solution, as long as disappearance of personified PC happens relatively late.  If you go out early (which knowing the math seems unlikely) that could get old.  And unfortunately that'll be the one thing that's hardest to playtest.
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Misspent Youth: Ocean's 11 + Avatar: The Last Airbender + Snow Crash
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Oo! Let's Make a Game!: Joshua A.C. Newman and I make a transhumanist RPG
Bret Gillan
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Posts: 375

That's Bret with one 't' damn it.


« Reply #6 on: January 29, 2007, 01:04:58 PM »

Jason,

I don't really have any ideas on how to resolve the Grid situation, and you know - maybe it's not something that needs to be resolved. I mean, sure, it could cause causality problems but I'll be entirely honest - I didn't take any cues whatsoever from the Grid with regards to how I played my character. And it wasn't an act of defiance or anything, there was just no reason or reminder to as Grid location was only utilized in the chapter setup and aftermath. And I'd be interested to hear if anyone else was taking cues for their roleplaying from the Grid.
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Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #7 on: January 29, 2007, 01:06:42 PM »

It's possible to get written out as early as scene five (out of nine), but that's a perfect storm situation - and it's also a week into the Uprising, so I'm totally OK with a departure at that point.  I *think* it'll be fairly common to lose a few PCs in Act Three.
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Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #8 on: January 29, 2007, 01:09:10 PM »

And I'd be interested to hear if anyone else was taking cues for their roleplaying from the Grid.

Actually I wasn't either, and that's a great point.  I think it can serve as a useful tool for playing a character, and the corner you "exit" from would obviously matter when you were deciding the character's fate, but beyond that, I'm not sure more attention needs to be called to it.  I'd like to hear what other player's reactions to this are.
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Robert Bohl
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« Reply #9 on: January 29, 2007, 01:15:11 PM »

I did pay attention to the grid, and I did use it as a roleplaying aid.  I sort of saw where I was heading, and roleplayed in tandem with that.  Also, when I knew I wanted to "die," I picked the corner that made most sense for my PC and drove there.
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Misspent Youth: Ocean's 11 + Avatar: The Last Airbender + Snow Crash
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Oo! Let's Make a Game!: Joshua A.C. Newman and I make a transhumanist RPG
Mel White
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« Reply #10 on: January 29, 2007, 01:34:12 PM »

I also enjoyed playing Grey Ranks and I'm happy to provide some feedback.

And I'd be interested to hear if anyone else was taking cues for their roleplaying from the Grid.

I assumed at first that there _must_ be a good direction to go on the grid.  Obviously, that's not the case and it's not a problem with the game--it's a feature!  So I didn't really play with moving on the grid in mind, but I was well away from the corners so I recognized that if I got too close to a corner I might have to seek to fail at my personal vignette or seek to have the mission fail in order to control the direction of my movement. 

In other areas, I was confused at first that mission vignettes for each player don't require a roll roll while personal vignettes do.  But my confusion cleared up after a turn or two and has nothing to do with the actual rules.  
I like the 'grid-flipping'; I prefer that to getting stuck on the edge or standing still.  An option might be to randomize the move when moving off the grid.  In other words, the token doesn't just move one square but could move to any square on that row (or column)--even the origin, which would be very bad if the origin was a corner.  But I don't have a problem with the current method.  
I really enjoyed the 'phrase selection' at the beginning of each scene as inspiration for that scene.  If I remember correctly, there was no requirement to include those phrases in the scene but it might be more rewarding to the players if there was a requirement...It would be a lot of fun to see how other players interpret the phrase I picked.
The Radio Lightning broadcasts were useful in establishing the big picture.  As you mentioned, they also could be used for inspiration in the scenes.  Having both the phrases and the Radio broadcasts may be too much inspiration, though.  I'd modify the Radio broadcasts to be less of Radio Lightning's view of the situation to a more neutral point of view (or perhaps the BBC) reporting the state of the front lines, the depiction of the ever shrinking perimeter, the preparations to  drop air bundles...I think it would be neat for the players to hear how the Germans are gradually reducing the Polish stronghold from an outsider's point of view--because the outsiders would be less passionate and more objective.  
All in all, though, it was a great game--I hated losing my rosary!
Mel
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phredd
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« Reply #11 on: January 29, 2007, 02:34:28 PM »

Thanks for the chance to try the game out.  It was a blast.

I didn't take cues from the grid either.  I did, however, push my cube in the direction I was intending to start my player out with when you had us adjust for starting in scene 5.   I didn't try to game the grid at all either, but I might have done so ala RobNJ if I saw my character's arc heading that way.  Thinking about that in retrospect makes me less inclined to worry about wrapping around the grid. 

I really liked the scene elements list, which worked well in conjunction with one player acting as team leader and coming up with a mission objective.

I also liked the mission and the personal vignettes and how they worked just fine.  Confusion was an issue, but I think you could work a bit on figuring out some ways to
clarify this (perhaps by using language that makes them more distinct from each other). Having everyone pool the dice together and then distribute them again didn't seem to have much effect on the game to me.  Personally, I was happy as a clam with whatever die fell my way.  That also combined with the Age related modifiers to make things a little murky at the start of a scene. 

One thought that just occurred to me about the mission of a scene is that the players don't have all that much impact on the outcome of it with your current setup.  Beyond deliberately giving a lousy die to the mission pool, there's not much that could be done.  I think this is fine, provided all the players/characters want a mission to succeed.  But what do you think about allowing players to contribute a poison die or the like, with some sort of heavy price to be paid for the privilege?  Just a thought.

I like the idea of a more objective version of Radio Lightning.  That could be done a bit more briefly, I think, while driving the point home theme and atmosphere-wise. 

And a brief clarification about my character's coming out to his first love (I'm Player A).  During the scene when I made my confession, I was trying to get Player B to stop mother henning his younger brother as a personal scene.  I failed.  Then, I invoked my first love to get a D12 re-roll, which I'd pretty much set the scene up to do.  After Player B said he had to protect his younger brother because he loved him so much, I sputtered out in anger how I'd managed not to do that to him despite my own feelings.  So I didn't devastate my own thing I held dear, merely left myself open to it being crushed like a bug.  I won the reroll and then Player B destroyed it to force me to re-roll again, causing my ultimate failure and making the pink triangle comments.  Definitely was a great scene to be involved in.

I also loved it when his younger brother betrayed us in order to be able to go on the mission anyway, not to mention when said younger brother kept badgering me about why Lena had to go to the outskirts of the city to see a doctor.
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Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #12 on: January 29, 2007, 02:56:55 PM »

Thanks, guys, for the comments.  Phredd, I loved the stuff with Lena being pregnant and your mission being framed as taking her to an abortionist - fucked up and harrowing, particularly when she died.  Thanks for the clarification on the example I gave.  It actually was punchier than I described.

I agree that the Radio Lightning broadcasts need to be tightened up - they are a little too long right now.  I was struck by the desperation they embody - shortwave was the only real connection with the outside world, and they were literally begging for help starting on 8 August in real life.  It seems very dramatic to me, so Mel and Phredd - how would an objective, BBC World Service broadcast make for a better game?  Share your thoughts on this.

I scribbled a note to try the game without the re-distribution of Mission dice, which does seem fiddly in play.  I wanted that step to add selfishness and distrust to the crew, but that doesn't seem to happen, and the die sizes are generally quite similar, making the choice uneventful in many cases.  There will be legitimate conflict between players who need to fail the mission and those who need to succeed, which is interesting to me.  I think that can be addressed with limited use special resources like Thing You Hold Dear, allowing you to re-roll a failure or a success.  Maybe there need to be more of those, rather than just two.  I do want it to mean something when you use it, though. 
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Mel White
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« Reply #13 on: January 29, 2007, 05:15:42 PM »

Well, a BBC broadcast might be better at setting the mood because it would not be Polish propaganda.  The BBC-like broadcast would only cover (or mostly cover) what's happening from the perspective of someone outside the city--perhaps what could be seen from reconnaissance flights or a handful of spies and intercepts.  So the players would recognize the broadcasts as facts in the larger war that depict the initial successes, but then the Soviet delays and the German ring closing in on Warsaw.  The Radio Lightning broadcasts--that we heard in the scenes we played--gave a sense of what was happening in the city, but I don't recall that they gave a sense that time was running out.  It may just be that the 'feel' I'm thinking about would be in later scenes.  But I do think that it would be more harrowing to know that the Poles' pleas for help are not being answered than to actually hear the pleas themselves.
Some of the facts that are recounted in the Radio Lightning broadcasts could be added to the scene elements lists--if they're not there already--the use of human shields and other atrocities, off-target allied airdrops, crashed allied bomber, etc.

The BBC broadcasts might not exactly meet the war-censor test, but they would help inform the players that help is not coming. 



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phredd
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« Reply #14 on: January 29, 2007, 05:28:44 PM »

Re: The mission success issue...  How does this sound?:  Instead of re-rolls just being with d12s, how about making a re-roll have the option of using a d4 or a d12?

As for the idea about the BBC, I thought their outsider POV might provide a punchier description of the plight of the uprising in Warsaw.  I just dug up some BBC coverage from the start and the end of the uprising.  I don't think that it really does what I thought it would do.  I think reading out that text wouldn't be materially different from Radio Lightning.  So maybe an abridged version of Radio Lightning that incorporates a concrete general assessment of how things stand would be a better idea.
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