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Author Topic: [Agon] - Fun & Death on the Island of Skyros  (Read 5609 times)
Darcy Burgess
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Posts: 478


« on: January 07, 2008, 05:03:45 PM »

I recently had the pleasure of teaming up with my pre-fatherhood gaming group; we got together five days ago.  We started early (10am), and in a nod to days of yore, had planned on "all-day gaming"; RPGing up until supper time, and then changing gears to some board game fare.  We'd settled on Agon as our RPG for the day, and I'd prepped The Island of Skyros and attendant NPCs ahead of time.

I've been excited to play a proper game of Agon for some time, and it was with great enthusiasm that I opened the day by reading the "What the Players Do" section on page 9.  I made sure to emphasize the fact that the real competition was between players, and that my job as GM was to provide a level playing field for them to get their game on.

I don't think that anyone believed me, but there's only so much exhorting you can do, right?

Early play was a little meandering, as the players settled into their characters and poked at the system in a somewhat tentative fashion.  It also took a little while for the fact that I wasn't going to "hide" the quest objectives away from them to dawn on two of the three players.  They spent a fair bit of time just discussing what they'd do rather than doing it.  This wasn't 'in-character' planning; it was meta-gamey planning, in a "nah, we can't do that - he'll just move the dingus, and then we'll have to go find his mcguffin".  Again, I tried explaining to them that the only thing that could "hide" stuff from them was the dice.  However, my words carried a decided lack of credibility, and it wasn't until the first few contests were resolved (some favourably for the Heroes, some not), that the even-handedness of Agon's resolution system began to take hold.

At least, that's my perception of things.

The initial meandering pace of play was left behind once Glory started getting doled out.  It wasn't long before players started making out-of-character comments along the lines of "Right, so we need to make everything a roll, all the time.  That way, there's more Glory!"  This was great -- it showed that John's design had engaged their competitive sides.  The hunt for Glory was on, and everyone was mixing it up.

Due in large part to my inexperience with the game, I didn't have a real sense of how long a quest should take for me & mine.  From the moment that the players latched on to a specific quest (the Quest for the Heart-Stone) to its completion took us about 5-6 hours of solid play.  By the end, I was starting to wear down, and I think some of the players were beginning to tire as well.  This wasn't weariness per se; rather, I found that it was analagous to the deep-muscle burn I remember from cross-country running, way back in Grade 4.  Agon is hard work, but it's rewarding.

In addition to a number of minor rules questions (which I'll handle in a separate thread), there were two major issues that cropped up in play that I really needed to address.

Narration Rights
Other than during Achievements, I can't find any guidance regarding who narrates what once a contest roll is made.  Do non-achievement rolls follow the same formula (Antagonist sets up the contest, and the Aggressor has the narration rights?) as those in Achievements?

We settled on the Antagonist holding the "rubber stamp" of narrative authority, and I was always keen to hear from the players.


The Wound Track
When I first explained the nifty "you only check off the box of the wound level" mechanic, all the players were enthused.  They were even more enthused when I explained the "wound sliding" mechanic.  This is cool stuff!

Except it's not.  At least, it wore on us by the end of the game.  Here's why:

It's next-to-impossible to score the high-enough rolls to land a level 4+ wound in a single strike.  However, the players, all hopped up on the competitive goodness that is the rest of the game, were constantly open-ending their attack rolls in an effort to do single-hit take-downs.  And then, they'd follow it up with a "Right.  I completely forgot again that I just can't do that.  Not without a horseshoe shoved up my Aenis..."

So, we discovered that combat in Agon essentially boils down to "who gets the last hit out of six", not "who can maneuver for the best hit".  How do the players compete over that -- it seems to me that the pertinent subsystems are too intricate to form a suitable playground for functional competition.  However, I'd love for someone to point out to me what we weren't doing.


Conclusion
We all had a good time, and were really into the game until that wound track realization dawned on us.  Even then, I know that I was still enjoying myself.  The wound track wasn't a deal-breaker for me.  We were all bummed over it, and we even went back through the rules to make sure that we weren't missing something.  However, we couldn't see a procedural error on our part.
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Darcy Burgess
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Posts: 478


« Reply #1 on: January 07, 2008, 05:21:38 PM »

Hi,

In the interests of easier cross-referencing, here are the minor rules questions.

Darcy
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John Harper
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« Reply #2 on: January 07, 2008, 08:03:52 PM »

Hi Darcy,

Sounds like solid Agon play to me. The tentative opening is common for new groups. I'm very happy to hear that they grabbed on to the necessity of conflicts and rolls for Glory. The game was built to address the "resolution avoidance" of some types of old-skool play.

You didn't miss anything regarding narration rights. It's not spelled out in the book and is meant to be left up to whatever method your group prefers. Antagonist rubber stamp is what I do, too.

I have something to say about the wound track, brinksmanship, and competition during battles, but I'm going to hold off for now and let other people chime in.
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Valamir
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« Reply #3 on: January 08, 2008, 09:45:44 PM »

Our group also wound up disappointed that the wound scale turned all the combat into a war of attrition. 

I'd love to play again, so I'm looking forward to your thoughts on that subject, John.
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Noclue
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Posts: 351


« Reply #4 on: January 09, 2008, 12:44:29 AM »

Kill stealing...for Glory!!!!
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James R.
Darcy Burgess
Member

Posts: 478


« Reply #5 on: January 09, 2008, 05:18:21 AM »

Hi James,

Hey, I wasn't clear enough, was I?

That bit in my opening post that went "It seems to me that the pertinent subsystems are too intricate to form a suitable playground for functional competition." is basically saying "Hey, we should be able to steal each others kills, but the system is really tough to navigate in and around those parts."

Then next bit, "However, I'd love for someone to point out to me what we weren't doing." Is asking you to play tour guide.

Since you're now a self-proclaimed kill-stealing expert, care to share?

Cheers,
Darcy
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Mel White
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« Reply #6 on: January 09, 2008, 06:29:22 AM »


So, we discovered that combat in Agon essentially boils down to "who gets the last hit out of six", not "who can maneuver for the best hit".  How do the players compete over that -- it seems to me that the pertinent subsystems are too intricate to form a suitable playground for functional competition.  However, I'd love for someone to point out to me what we weren't doing.
In reference to 'kill-stealing', I've seen that this is exactly what excites the guys I play with (I normally GM for them).  The players recognize that the last wound will earn the most Glory, so they use positioning and weapon choice to try and out-think their comrades.  Most battles start cooperatively, as the players assess the threat and do things like whittling away the opponent's armor.  But later in the fight, players want to score that last hit and so they position comrades out of optimal weapon range or at least 'charge' oaths for any cooperation.  Or they 'disguise' their intent by positioning the bad guys towards their own optimal range--which just happens to be outside of other Heroes' ranges.   It reminds me a little of 'Diplomacy'--it's not a matter of 'if' there will be a backstab, only 'when'.
The Wound progression sequence creates this dynamic because each hit is more or less equal to any other--it's hard to get 3 or more victories in a single hit.  And it levels the playing field for the Heroes, since a 1 victory hit against an opponent with 1,2,3 wound boxes filled in is as good as a 4 hit.  One other thing--those 'open-ended' attacks can be awesome at just the right time!  One Monster-Slayer Hero open ended a d8 spear and then rolled 8, 8, 1--something like 26 attack versus a 4 defense:  six victories! 
Mel
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Darcy Burgess
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Posts: 478


« Reply #7 on: January 09, 2008, 07:16:02 AM »

Ah!  Ok... so what you're saying is that at your table, the first 3-4 successful hits in combat are used to size up the opponent, and try and assess their weak spot?  Then, it gets all competitive?
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Mel White
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« Reply #8 on: January 09, 2008, 07:43:23 AM »

Ah!  Ok... so what you're saying is that at your table, the first 3-4 successful hits in combat are used to size up the opponent, and try and assess their weak spot?  Then, it gets all competitive?
Pretty much...although really the first attacks are used to break down the bad guys armor, or maybe eliminate minions.  We haven't been great at 'assessing ' opponents prior to or during a fight in order to gain an advantage.  I want to emphasize that possibility next time we play. 
The trend towards more competitive play has evolved over time.  I'd credit it really to one player who 'got it'--and would do nothing cooperative unless Glory (in a competition) or an Oath were involved.  That mind-set spread.  So, things in combat remain cooperative when cooperation is in players' best interests, but then becomes more competitive as a particular encounter runs on and the heroes are more confident of victory.  There have been some harsh lessons!  A particularly heroic Hero charged an enemy, asking for positioning help to close the distance quickly.   The player had never played Agon before; I think he was expecting a more cooperative approach to the battle.  But once engaged, his comrades hung back (using javelins and out-of-optimal range spears).  While all the Heroes whittled away the opponent's armor, the first Hero suffered all the attacks from the bad guy.  He wound up with some Glory, but a lot of wounds himself, and some Fate incurred to avoid injuries, too.     
Mel
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Darcy Burgess
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Posts: 478


« Reply #9 on: January 09, 2008, 11:43:21 AM »

Hi Mel,

We're talking about the same thing.  I didn't mean "assessing" in the sense of gaining or eliminating advantages.  Rather, I meant it in a sense of "what's a good weapon to use on this guy", or "well, I think that the Antag has busted out all the special powers, so now seems a good time to go at it".

Thanks,
Darcy
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John Harper
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« Reply #10 on: January 09, 2008, 01:50:11 PM »

A battle in Agon can be a subtle and tricky thing, competition-wise, and has everything to do with brinksmanship or "playing chicken" with the other heroes, as well as good Oath management.

As you discovered, a hero cannot rush in, charge up his uber attack, and swat down a bad guy with one blow. This is by design. It's basically impossible to take out any character with one shot during a battle. The result is that the hero who jumps in and does damage first is helping the other heroes by softening up the baddie. Someone has to be the first one to strike the bad guy, and this move will help the hero group (by shortening the combat and giving the bad guy fewer opportunities to do damage and suck up the resources of the party). But it will likely hurt the hero, because his fellows will have an easier shot at the higher wound boxes, which are worth more Glory.

It's almost always a better strategy to hold back and let someone else strike the first (and probably second and third) blow, then cherry pick the higher wound boxes by using the "attack again" Divine Favor ability at the right moment. But if all the heroes sit back and wait, the bad guy gets in more hits and hurts the group.

So there's your dilemma. Agon is a game of dilemmas. Do you go in swinging and try to get it over with, probably missing out on the higher Glory? Or do you take the chance that someone else will do it for you, and wait for the juicy shot?

Then, throw Oaths in to the mix. The guy who goes first and softens up the bad guy is helping the other heroes. Every single time you help the other heroes, you should charge Oaths for your trouble. If they don't want to pony up, that's their problem, and you can sit back and wait right along with them. (Assuming you haven't positioned yourself as the bad guy's punching bag, of course.)

There are layers and layers, not all immediately apparent on the first go. Try being the "I'll hit him first" guy for several battles and build up a nice pile of Oaths to cash in later -- right when the other heroes least want you to.
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hermes
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Posts: 28


« Reply #11 on: January 09, 2008, 03:05:12 PM »

As the player in Darcy's game who was most vocal in his dislike for the wound mechanic, I suppose I should contribute a few words to the discussion. 

I think that the problem I have with it is that the game mechanics seem at odds with the roleplaying elements.  There seems to be quite a bit of emphasis placed upon the quest for glory--that is, as far as I can tell from what I have seen of the game thus far, the main goal for each player/character.  Having read the posts of those in favour of the wound mechanic, it appears that the best way to achieve glory is to hang back and let others do all of the work for you.  The roleplayer in me cries foul at the mere of thought of such an act.  That's not glory...that's cowardice. 

A warrior seeking glory would denounce all other warriors for being weak and girlish (ancient warriors weren't known for their political correctness) and charge into battle.  The bravest, and therefore most feared and respected, warriors were those who stood at the front of the battle formation, hacking away limbs with seemingly reckless abandon.  It seems to me that the warrior who hangs back, making largely ineffective ranged attacks while his companions are bathed in the blood and viscera of their enemies, is being clever and opportunistic as far as the game mechanics are concerned, but that warrior is far from glorious.  They should earn the wrath of the gods, not reap the bounties and rewards.

Also, mechanically you spend divine favour in order to pull off spectacular attacks by "opening" dice.  Presumably, the gods like this sort of thing because its bloody and leads to more deaths, which is, of course, glorious.  So shouldn't opening your dice to score an attack with 2 or even 3 victories earn you more glory than an attack that only produces 1 victory?  Is it more glorious to graze someone with a 1 victory spear thrust when they are already at death's door and would probably topple over in a strong breeze, or is it better to bring a thunderous 3 victory sword smashing through someone's armour and into their collar bone with a single blow?  I'll take the latter.

It feels wrong to me.  As a set of abstract mechanics, it's fine to say that poaching kills is the best tactic on the road to victory.  As a roleplaying game, that involves some level of immersion into the setting, it just doesn't sit well with me.

That is my initial reaction after a single evening of play. 

Out of curiosity, I don't recall this coming up at all during our game, but just how difficult is it to kill minions (i.e., generic, relatively weak opponents who tend to appear in large numbers)?  Even though I suspect there will be more hits worth multiple victories (because the minions would likely be using fairly small dice on their defense), it seems that they would still take a long time to kill or defeat.  I picture a heroic warrior, in the tradition that Agon seems to be built around, cutting a swath of carnage through minions, but the wound system really seems to discourage even the possibility of a one shot kill.  Is there a separate mechanic to cover that?

Glenn

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Darcy Burgess
Member

Posts: 478


« Reply #12 on: January 09, 2008, 03:45:00 PM »

I have some questions of my own regarding John's comments, but I want to let Glenn's feedback rule the thread for a bit.  I don't have anything to add right now, Glenn, but I'm watching intently.
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John Harper
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« Reply #13 on: January 09, 2008, 04:26:04 PM »

First, minions. A minion is defeated with a single hit. They're worth 1 Glory each.

Glenn, we are on the same page regarding charging into battle and being brave and glorious and such. So why does the system work the way it does? Some of that answer has to do with emergent properties of the game, and it's hard to unpack unless you've seen it. But maybe I can sort of point at the thing I mean, and you can fill in the rest with play and reflection.

Here's something: When minions are involved, the hero who dives in first and attacks the most wins big. If you have the Divine Favor to spend, you can step up to a group of minions and cut them all down before anyone else blinks (two swords are great for this). This might be worth as much as 6 Glory in one chunk, and you don't have to share any of it with the other heroes.

Now the big nasty NPC guy? He's worth 6 Glory to the hero who hits that last wound box. BUT, he's also worth 5 Glory to the hero who hit the no. five box, 4 Glory to the next one down, and so on. When an NPC is defeated, there might be a Glory differential of 2-3 points among the heroes involved. And then everyone also shares equally in the bonus Glory based on the Strife cost of the NPC. So when an NPC goes down, the group as a whole gets a nice big Glory boost (towards advances and increased effectiveness).

So: Fighting minions with aggression and verve can mean a big Glory boost for the hero who is brave and quick. Fighting NPCs is a more bitter battle of attrition that doesn't reward one hero very much more than another*. Groups of minions are ridiculously dangerous with their big fat attack bonuses, and are basically the only entity in the game that can score a 6-victory roll and drop someone with one attack. The hero that charges up to a group of minions risks a lot with his aggression, and stands to gain a big individual reward. The heroes who fight an NPC must be more wiley, more crafty, more subtle and skillful to edge out an advantage over their fellows, but when an NPC goes down, the collective reaps a nice big reward.

One way is Achilles, the other is Odysseus.

Does that help?

- J

* (Unless you are really, really good at Agon, and can gobble up the 4, 5, and 6 boxes yourself for a nice 3-pt. bump over the next highest guy who got the 3 box.)

I have more to say about contests vs. battles, but that can wait.
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Darcy Burgess
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« Reply #14 on: January 09, 2008, 04:33:18 PM »

Data point: we saw no Minions during our trip to Skyros.

Data point: we saw no Minions during out trip to Skyros because I didn't get what John just said when I planned my NPCs.
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