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Author Topic: Wushu: hard work, but rewarding  (Read 11903 times)
Matt Wilson
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« on: January 16, 2004, 08:17:47 AM »

We're crazy guys. We did a crazy system switch: Spycraft to Wushu.

It's like the 6th game in the run, and we bailed on poor d20, which was boxing us in. My chief complaint about d20 I think is that it provides a lot of information about what a player and character cannot do. Your opinion may differ.

So anyway, Wushu. It's not for the lazy. No time to space out. You gots to be thinking up cool ways to earn those embellishment dice. And what a great idea. It's like Ron's bonus die concept from Sorcerer, squared.

The way we played the game (I need to read the rules better), John, the GM, made use of fast and furious scene framing, to the effect that the framing created immediate things to react to. "Okay, this scene starts with you parachuting in above the military complex. Go. " or "This scene starts with you looking down into some kind of hangar. You see the UFO and a control room. Go."

Our group really got into it by the end of the session, really riffing off each other's narrations, gaining embellishment from things that other players had worked into the scene. It was very satisfying, and I like the potential the system gives for real collaboration. It reminded me of improv theater when it really clicks.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: January 16, 2004, 09:00:12 AM »

Hi Matt,

Have you run into the issue of exhaustion? I tend to feel pressured, after a time, by systems which require imaginative/kewl input simply in order to play.

I confess that Donjon seems very draining to me; unless I'm all fired up about beating the GM "at his own game," it's hard to keep up the drive to keep embellishing and elaborating upon the scene. The Dying Earth has a bit of this problem, although its multiple options helps. I try to stress that bonus dice in Sorcerer arise from out-of-game as well as in-game input, so that simple engagement of whatever sort is all that matters.

Best,
Ron
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Brand_Robins
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« Reply #2 on: January 16, 2004, 09:08:32 AM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
Have you run into the issue of exhaustion? I tend to feel pressured, after a time, by systems which require imaginative/kewl input simply in order to play.


My group, which has now played Wushu about 6 times, has. Because of it we try to keep our games shorter, anything over 3 hours is right out, and have developed some shorthands about issues -- such as a "scene shifter" to force a chance in scenery when all the players are starting to feel strained to come up with new moves in the current environment, and "give me a gun" to ask another player to set up something on their turn that you can use on your next turn, as you're currently stumped for ideas.
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- Brand Robins
Matt Wilson
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« Reply #3 on: January 16, 2004, 09:28:28 AM »

Quote
Have you run into the issue of exhaustion? I tend to feel pressured, after a time, by systems which require imaginative/kewl input simply in order to play.


A little bit, but what really worked well was for, say, me to think of a couple dice worth of embellishments, then let Dan narrate a couple things, and his narration would give me an idea for more things to say, and so on. We did that back and forth and it was much easier. In fact, I appended a narration to make it fit better with someone else's at one point.

Not unlike a certain game's "free and clear stage," eh?

If it were the case that I had to think of six really cool things all by myself and then move on to the next player, I'd be hurtin' for dice.
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Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #4 on: January 16, 2004, 11:10:42 AM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards

I confess that Donjon seems very draining to me; unless I'm all fired up about beating the GM "at his own game," it's hard to keep up the drive to keep embellishing and elaborating upon the scene. The Dying Earth has a bit of this problem, although its multiple options helps. I try to stress that bonus dice in Sorcerer arise from out-of-game as well as in-game input, so that simple engagement of whatever sort is all that matters.


Exhaustion is common for me as well in these sorts of game. I wish I'd put a section in Donjon about this phenomenon. I've noticed a few groups pick it up, seem really excited, and try to play a 10-hour-D&D-esque marathon with it, then put it down, not certain why they didn't like it. If I'd put a section in saying, "Play for two to three hours tops - a short, but fun, adventure will be more memorable than a long, but draining, one," it'd be a better game for that sentence.
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Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games
Blake Hutchins
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« Reply #5 on: January 16, 2004, 12:06:16 PM »

I found Dying Earth exhausting in this way, more for the demand of keeping up the flowery, formal Vancian dialogue.  Shorter game times help, as well as recognizing when you're approaching burnout and calling things off at that point.

Best,

Blake
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Hafaza
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« Reply #6 on: January 16, 2004, 12:29:02 PM »

Playing “Ranjeet” in the current Spycraft/Wushu run…

Confessions:

1) I thought I disliked d20.
2) I thought I would love Wushu.

Something clicked for me in the last session in which we used the d20 system. I looked at the system and saw that it was simply a realism dial. I embraced it and went on to describe in flowing detail the actions that Ranjeet did and to embellish (for no effect, just for the love of it) details within those actions (a clove cigarette sailing though the air behind the boat and being extinguished in the water at the same moment as my foot connects with the bad guys jaws and darkness consumes them).

In Wushu I had the feeling part way through the session of why not just hand out all the dice to all the players all the time? Most of the time people will get all of them anyway. Yeah, I saw where that was heading and promptly slapped myself in the face three times. Still, I have to confess that Wushu left me a bit, well, discombobulated.

I am not sure where this leaves me, and am still mulling it over.
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Hafaza (aka Mark)
rafial
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« Reply #7 on: January 16, 2004, 03:10:54 PM »

Quote from: Hafaza

In Wushu I had the feeling part way through the session of why not just hand out all the dice to all the players all the time? Most of the time people will get all of them anyway. Yeah, I saw where that was heading and promptly slapped myself in the face three times.


I'm curious.  Where did you see it heading precisely?

I haven't played Wushu yet, but I do own it, and I came to the same conclusion in reading the text.  The next stage of my reaction after mulling it over was that players really should get all the dice most of the time, unless they are really slacking off, and getting dice isn't the contest in Wushu.  The dice cap simply serves as a "Whoa!" meter for the overall game.  Rather the contest is using your narration to adjust the scene in a way that allows you to use your strong traits, and features your opponents' weaknesses.  But that is all theory based on reading, not on play.

I'd like to hear how it meshes with what you experienced.
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John Harper
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« Reply #8 on: January 17, 2004, 03:30:18 PM »

I'm not surprised you were discombobulated, Mark. Wushu, despite being a very simple system, is very challenging in actual play. It's flipped on its head. It's "fortune at the end". Everything you embellish happens when you say it. Then you roll to see if those things you just did help to overcome the current challenge or not.

I've never played another game like this. It requires a significant shifting of mental gears. No longer is the GM the one responsible for managing what is and is not possible (either by fiat or the management of difficulty levels or such). It's every player's responsibility to keep the right tone going, from moment to moment, and yes, it can be exhausting.

About the dice: I think players are supposed to always have the max dice pool. The process of going around and collaboratively building up embellishments until the pools are full -- that's the primary "meat" of gameplay. By setting a dice-pool cap (and/or threat level) from scene to scene, the GM manages how much attention is focused by the group on any one particular challenge.

I don't see embellishments as a Gamist mechanic of any sort. You're not "earning" more dice in order to get an edge in the game system. The act of describing embellishments is the point of play, and I don't think there's meant to be any competition among players to build bigger pools or any incentive to develop a "best" strategy for gaining dice. In this way, Wushu and Donjon are very different.
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John Harper
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« Reply #9 on: January 17, 2004, 03:46:59 PM »

I wanted to share my favorite moment from the last Wushu game.

We're doing the big fight in the hangar with bad guys and the UFO. Dan's character, Robert, the ultimate sniper, has hidden himself on an upper catwalk and is picking off baddies left and right. Now it's Matt's turn to embellish. He describes how his character Veronica gets into perfect position near the control room, pops around the corner with her gun leveled, and just as she's about to fire -- BLAM! -- the guy falls over with a hole between his eyes. She spins to take out a soldier coming up behind her but -- BLAM! -- he drops too. "Dammit, Robert!" Veronica whispers into her comlink.

What a great moment. Matt used his embellishments to spotlight his character while protagonizing another character. Brilliant stuff. This set the tone for the session, I think. Everyone was riffing off of everyone else like that. Wushu really delivered what I had been craving.
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ejh
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« Reply #10 on: January 17, 2004, 08:32:28 PM »

Interesting thread.  I've been on an "I want to do Wushu!" kick for a while.  Earlier tonight I was describing it to a gamer friend and I tried to riff Embellishments off the top of my head for dice to show him how it worked, completely out of context, and I found myself gasping like a fish out of water.

I tried again, with a different action and had the same thing happen.

Now, that's not real play, it's an out of game explanation, but the point is I thought it'd be easy and it was way hard.

It occurred to me as I thought about it later that maybe Wushu would be a heck of a lot harder than I thought it would be, for the reasons described in this thread.  "Do cool stuff!  Do cool stuff!" might be as paralyzing an imperative as "Be funny!  Be funny!" tended to be in Toon (which is why I don't think I played Toon more than once or twice).

Obviously it works for some people, and the key to it working seems to be getting away from the idea that you're trying to build up dice by doing cool stuff -- instead, assuming that you're gonna get all the dice and they're just there to kind of punctuate the cool stuff that you're obviously going to say.

But the rules certainly push the "dice as a reward for cool stuff, try hard so you'll get a lot" way of viewing it.  If that leads to paralysis and/or burnout, that's a problem.

It made me wonder if I wouldn't be happier with a game system that *allowed* me to do cool embellishments than a game system that tried to *bribe* me into doing cool embellishments.

I dunno.  Everything in this post should obviously be taken with a grain of salt because it's not even about Actual Play but an attempt to simulate Actual Play off the cuff for purposes of explanation.  But I did find, in this thread, the very things that had knocked Wushu down a few notches on my "I gotta DO this"-ometer.
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Valamir
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« Reply #11 on: January 17, 2004, 09:23:33 PM »

I think its probably a bit easier if you try to think like a movie director setting up a shot.  We've all seen enough action flicks to know the various elements that add that extra oomph to an action scene.  I haven't had the chance to play Wushu, but I think if I did I'd actually go about describing the "cool stuff" in terms of camera pans, cut shots, close ups, and the like.
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Daniel Solis
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« Reply #12 on: January 17, 2004, 09:48:24 PM »

Quote from: ejh
It made me wonder if I wouldn't be happier with a game system that *allowed* me to do cool embellishments than a game system that tried to *bribe* me into doing cool embellishments.


Unless explicitly forbidden, doesn't every system allow for embellishments? There may be no mention of them one way or another, but I can't think of a single system that outright says, in a stodgy Monty Python voice, "Right, no more of that descriptive narration. It's silly!"
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Meatbot Massacre
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rafial
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« Reply #13 on: January 18, 2004, 12:05:44 AM »

Quote from: gobi

Unless explicitly forbidden, doesn't every system allow for embellishments?


Very likely.  Just before reading this thread, I was flipping through the copy of the Rune RPG that I snagged the other day, and I was suprised by the game text explicitly validating the choice not to narrate:

Quote from: Rune RPG

Some Hordes don't want to let a bunch of fancy descriptions get in the way of their hacking and slashing.  They're content to call out numbers, roll dice, and rack up their point scores.  They may be vividly imagining goblins flying left and right as their implacable heros wade through columns of cave-dwelling enemies, but they keep such images to themselves.  For these players, elements of play-acting are just a distraction from the game.
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John Harper
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« Reply #14 on: January 18, 2004, 12:56:35 AM »

Hmmm. I'm disappointed to hear that this thread might be discouraging Wushu play.

Wushu ain't easy. True. Is it a hell of a lot of fun? You bet. It certainly is for our group. I've run it for veteran gamers (the current group) and total novices (the Matrix game) and it was a success in both cases.

Ed, I can see how your off-the-cuff demonstration must have been very hard. It's tough to "be cool" at a moment's notice, out of context, into a total vacuum. But Wushu isn't like that. The GM sets the scene, like any traditional RPG. You have a location and a situation to riff off of, as well as the cool ideas of the other players. Embellishments ebb and flow as the game progresses. Sometimes they're jaw-droppers. Sometimes they're simply saying what your guy does. Any detail you choose to empart to the "audience" counts as an embellishment. Talk about how cool your guy's sunglasses are... there's an embellishment die.

Ralph is right about using cinematic language to describe your embellishments -- it helps a lot. Your job is to hold the interest of the other players. Sometimes you'll be cool and everyone will go "Whoah." Other times, you'll just describe how it looks when your guy cuts loose with his machine gun and the next player will jump in with his own cool bit based on that.

Like Universalis, or The Pool, no one player has to carry the whole game on his back. Everyone is working together to make a cool action game happen. I suggest you give it a try. Pop in the Chateau fight from Reloaded first to get everyone in the mood. :)

(edited for clarity)
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