[Yuuyake Koyake] Railroady Participationism & Game Economy

Started by Filip Luszczyk, October 29, 2008, 05:38:26 PM

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Filip Luszczyk

I intended to write and post this AP earlier, but here goes:

At the beginning of September we played a game of Yuuyake Koyake, using the early version of the translation I received from Ewen Cluney. I was told the document included everything required to play, and it seems the only missing things were the sample scenarios and some tangential stuff like stat blocks and power lists for local gods. The players were Kamil and Lukasz, and it was the first time any of us played a Japanese game. We completed one story, split into two meetings, which lasted maybe five or six hours total.

Lukasz played a dog, Kamil played a tanuki. Both created boy vagabond characters. Lukasz generally has some issues with playing young characters, but after seeing his initial concept (an elderly drifter) I insisted that he lowers the age. He settled on 18, pretty much sticking to the wise old man archetype. The character sheets are posted here.

The game was pretty enjoyable, especially in terms of the cute and heartwarming mood, but at the same time, very frustrating in some respects. I'm quite ambivalent about Yuuyake Koyake as a system - I really want to like it, but it includes some things that I see as serious weaknesses in design. After the game, we've been discussing the cool parts that seemed worth salvaging and considering some possible fixes. We reached certain general conclusion regarding the general direction of those fixes, but I still have no idea about the specific rules changes that could work for us.

I'll summarize the story, juxtaposing my scenario with the actual events of the session. Since I wasn't able to read any of sample stories in the book, I'm not sure whether my scenario was designed correctly. The book itself (at least the translated part) doesn't provide a lot of concrete advice for that, I'm afraid. Specifically, I'm wondering whether my story wasn't too open. I made sure that all the scenes I prepared were independent enough that none could be skipped or invalidated by the actions of the characters, but I still left some space for different development of events within the scenes, and depending on their results, the conclusion of the story could have been different. In a way, it went against the "move the story forward" advice. Especially, I have some doubts about the potential for a sad ending I included, as it might have been a violation of the heartwarming spirit of the game.

Background: Akari, after losing her parents in an accident, was being brought up by her grandma, Kotone. The old lady's health started deteriorating, however, and the girl has been taking care of her for some time now. The doctor says the only thing that can still save Kotone is a very expensive treatment, which they can't afford. Akari, no longer able to deal with her problems, skips school to get drunk in the forest.

Scene 1 [morning]
The group meets Akari in the woods. The girls is wearing a red hoodie; she has a bag full of beer cans and a violin taken from the school with her. She will draw the group's attention by playing a sad tune, almost well, but with lots of wrong notes. Unless the characters stop her, she's going to get drunk. She doesn't want to talk about her grandma. It's not really possible to improve her music at this point, due to her psychological state.

The players choose not to transform right away. Lukasz's henge, in his dog form, drawn Akari's attention and bonded with the girl through play, establishing a Connection. Kamil used this diversion to investigate the contents of the bag. Then, he transformed and, taken for the dog's owner, created a Connection with the girl. They talked a bit, and Kamil's tanuki, not understanding the concept of school, made quite an impression on Akari, who admitted she'd like to live such a carefree life as well. I think she actually drank some beer, but Lukasz's character, unnoticed, draged the bag away and hid it in the bushes before it went too far.

The scene lasted for about an hour and included learning the basic mechanics, but also established the mood. Lots of Dreams got tossed around for cute role-playing and stuff. There were some stat checks, I think, notably a check for hiding the bag, and the players had to manage their resources rather carefully that early in the game (though it occurred to me that due to their very limited resources, if I didn't want something to happen, I could have easily blocked that, calling for lots of medium difficulty checks). After the scene, however, we started bumping up Connection levels and the amount of resources available quickly skyrocketed.

Scene 2 [daytime]
The group is passing near a house at the edge of the town. They see Kotone working in the garden. She suddenly faints. If not helped, she'll go into a coma. Otherwise, she can tell the group about her condition and express her worries about Akari. Inside the house, there are some photos with Akari's parents. If inquired, Kotone will tell the story of the family and reveal that Akari's father was an accomplished violinist, but they had to sell his violin to buy medicine.

Well, the henge did help Kotone, taking her inside and taking care of her. Then, they started actually helping in the household. While Lukasz's dog went outside to water the plants, the old woman told the family's story to Kamil's henge.

Again, the scene lasted longer than I expected due to the whole heartwarming role-playing, which was heartwarming as hell. It wasn't a bad thing, obviously, and lots of Dreams got awarded. We kept this tendency for pretty much the rest of the game, with both players earning about 5-10 Dreams per scene (I think), and the Narrator earning a bit less. The mood was pretty strong.

However, it struck me that effectively, regardless of the player's resources I was the one who decided whether the characters succeeded in their tasks or not. And really, there wasn't even any real consequence to a potential failure, as nobody, me included, wanted to break the heartwarming atmosphere. So yes, some check was needed to save Kotone from falling into a coma, but really, there was no uncertainty in that. I could have either set the difficulty above or below the player's current resources, and that was all there was to it. "You have that many Feelings and you need to spend such and such portion of them to help her. Do you want to save the granny? Of course you do..." At worst we'd wound up without Kotone's participation in later scenes (i.e. only in the third scene, in practice). In itself, this wouldn't really affect the final resolution of the story, and in the context of that particular scene, the players would still be able to gather some of the information she could provide them with, figuring stuff out from the photos, possibly supporting themselves with some checks. The mood would change a bit, i.e. to a different tone of heartwarming, and that's all.

Scene 3 [evening]
Ito Tadashi, Akari's homeroom teacher, comes to Kotone's house to talk about her granddaughter. Depending on whether she came back to school after the first scene, either she got punished by having to stay after the classes or the teacher is searching for her and suspects her of stealing the violin. Regardless, Ito-sensei is angry because of her behavior. He thinks that she's wasting her potential. He wants to keep her at school studying till late hours from now on, but also to ban her from practicing music to punish her for taking away the violin.

Kamil's henge greeted Ito-sensei, in what we dubbed "Crinos form", i.e. with ears and tail. He explained that granny Kotone doesn't feel well and spent the rest of the scene talking with the teacher in front of the house. There were some checks of a social nature involved, but I must say the way we handled the mechanics here was very clumsy. You know how in games like Call of Cthulhu you sometimes made a check because the situation demanded that, but the outcome was overriden by the "needs of the story"? Well, that's what we had here, basically. Maybe we're just too used to games that provide functional tools for handling social conflict, but here, it just wasn't apparent how the mechanics, the fiction and the interests of both sides should interact. Before I realized what was going on, we've been already handwaving stuff. I recall the teacher recognized Kamil's character as henge and felt respect for the boy, but I don't remember what, if anything, they decided about the girl. In the end, Ito-sensei left without meeting with Kotone. I think some potentially useful information about Akari remained unrevealed, as nobody was asking about anything related and the conversation strayed into some completely different areas than the scenario assumed it would, focusing on henge themselves.

Scene 4 [evening]
This scene was requested by Kamil.

The group visited a local apothecary to get some medicine that would help Kotone. Obviously, with their low Adult scores, none of the henge knew anything about drugs, and likewise, they didn't understand the concept of buying stuff too well. Kamil's character had this power that allowed him to transfrom leaves into money, however, and since the players were basically swimming in resources at that point, he made a rather liberal use of it. They did buy some medicine, indeed, even if it wasn't sufficient to cure Kotone's condition permanently, and left the pharmacist sweeping money from the floor.

Now, that was a fun scene, but it exposed a problem with some poorly defined power effects. There are two powers in the game that provide money, and the other one gives the character a specific amount of cash per story, which makes it easy to assess how much can be bought. This one, however, leaves it completely unspecified. We didn't have even a rough idea what the character could achieve using it, in practice. Considering it did brought up an interesting image: a forest completely stripped of leaves and a tanuki in a truck form transporting the last of them to the nearest convenience store, where the rest of his tanuki clan already indulges their tanuki appetites, spending their easy tanuki money on excessive quantities of their tanuki beer.

I guess that this isn't the only potentially problematic power in the game, as I think it clearly demonstates a certain approach to kewl powers design that I already know way too well from many Polish games. It's basically style over mechanical substance. The underlying philosophy seems to be that, as long as the power/spell/charm/feat/trick/whachamacallit has an aw3s0m3 idea at its core, it does not need to make sense drom a purely mechanical viewpoint. The way I see it, it's laziness on the part of the designer and a failure to incorporate the power into the system at large.

One thing the powers in this game do well, however, is a "Mage Effect", as Kamil dubbed it. It's this "What if?" thing you get when in an otherwise heavily railroaded scenario you are provided with a character sheet full of interesting options that spark creativity. Like in an average game of the old Mage: the Ascension, where the GM pretty much dragged you through his scenario, blocking any effects that could "ruin the story", and your main input and source of fun was figuring out how to use the Spheres on your sheet to transform your pet hamster into a hydrogen bomb, knowing well the GM won't let you, but being jazzed by the idea regardless. The powers in Yuuyake Koyake certainly are fun in themselves and spark creativity, though handling them as an actual part of play might be problematic and seems to depend mostly on what the Narrator is willing to allow. Which, I think, somewhat defeats the point of having certain types of mechanical effects in the first place. I don't suppose they'd work much differently if treated exclusively as an expansion of the character's capabilities on a purely narrative, rather than mechanical, level.

Scene 5 [night]
Wandering the streets, the group spots Akari. She's standing in front of a souvenir shop and staring at her father's violin displayed behind the window. If nothing was done regarding her skipping the school and drinking in Scene 1, she will try to break the window and steal the violin. Mister Maeda, the shops owner, will be drawn by any commotion. He might be willing to employ a helper, if somebody comes up with that. If Akari aquires her father's violin in some way, her music will considerably improve.

Well, she did drink some beer in the first scene, but overall, I decided that hiding the bag was enough to keep her from going all drunk (wee, handwaving in favor of the mood again!). I don't recall that scene all that well, but I think the group actually called mister Maeda and Kamil's henge, who transformed into Ito-sensei using one of his powers, tried convinced the shop's owner to give the violin back to Akari. Also, I think Lukasz's character got employed in the shop. Again, it was all awesomely heartwarming.

At this point the game's economy was already behaving somewhat strange, however. The players have built a few Connections and increased them a bit, and had lots of Feelings and Wonders available (about 20 points each, I think), but there was not much to spend those on, especially when it came to Feelings. Checks were called mostly for inconsequential stuff, like learning to sweep the floor with a broom. I just didn't see how anything really meaningful could be resolved through the use of those mechanics, in the context of that scenario. Either way, we were already aware that mood breaking outcomes would ruin the game and therefore were out of question. So, for the players it was all about deciding between buying a heartwarming success or accepting a heartwarming failure to save up one's already excessive resources. I mean, it's not like it was a matter of life and death or something. This in turn sort of undermined the point of building Connections to generate those reasources in the first place, from a purely mechanical point of view. It made sense from the perspective of the fiction, but I don't think the level of fiction alligned well with this whole mechanical economy that apparently was supposed to drive the fiction in that particular direction in the first place.

It seems like the most fundamental problem of this game to me, one that impacts play incomparably more strongly than the relative lack of scenario creation instructions or some too sketchy powers.

Scene 6 [daytime]
The group meets Akari sitting on a see-saw in front of the local high school. She might be busy with some stuff, depending on the outcome of previous scenes. Either way, she's very sad. After a while the wind will blow a newspaper right into the face of the character with highest Henge stat. There's an announcement of a violin competition on the first page (an Adult check is needed to read it, otherwise Akari will do it and it will make her weep). The reward would be enough to cover Kotone's treatment, but the girl can't afford the entry fee. Also, she might not be confident in her skill at this point, depending on whether she acquired her father's violin and was allowed to practice. The whole thing really gets her down.

Guess what? They've read the announcement and spirited Akari up, and obtained the money for the entry fee (by convincing Ito-sensei the school should finance it, or something).

Unless Akari starts behaving and finds a job or acquires the money for the treatment in some other way, the story ends in a shrine, with the girl praying for her dead grandma. The characters get a last chance to spirit her up.
Otherwise, the group is in Kotone's house and watches the competition in the TV, possibly with some other NPCs present. If Akari's skill improved, she will win. If not, the audience will be moved with her touching story and funds for Kotone's treatment will be raised.
(Oops, looks like I overloked the potential happy ending that wouldn't involve the girl's participation in the competition. Oh, well.)

Yup, a happy ending, with Akari winning the competition and thanking the henge on air.

Heartwarming, yes. But I've been pretty eager to close the session at that point, so that I didn't have to interact with those mechanics any longer. Duh.

Filip Luszczyk

Well, as stated earlier, I really want to like this game and I'd play it again, if not for the mechanical issues. It does include lots of neat parts: the whole Connections deal, the potential for interesting long-term play, Dreams/fanmail rules, the mood, the setting. However, it also has some pretty frustrating aspects. There is a possibility that some of them are inherent to the hidden assumptions of the text or to the current state of the translation, but not being able to contact the author and not knowing Ewen's publishing plans for the game, I'm stuck with what I have for now. The good parts seem worth investing some work to fix the rest, especially that the system is not unmanageably robust (the other alternative I see, in fact, is porting the setting to Dogs in the Vineyard or The Princes' Kingdom, which potentially could work).

The first issue is the lack of a complete procedure for scenario creation (though this actually might not be a real issue, depending on the content of the still untranslated part of the document). In practice, I did come up with some formulas for designing scenes while writing my scenario, so I could probably refine that.

The second issue is connected with the powers. While the underlying mechanics seemed to work and that "Mage Effect" thing is a strong merit of the system, I'm tempted to fix the specific effects of certain powers, making them more consistent mechanically and eliminating problems like the one with that tanuki money thing. It does require a bit of work, but it's not even close to what some people do in order to, say, rework the lists of Charms in Exalted to their satisfaction.

The third issue is much more difficult and concerns the resolution. There doesn't seem to be enough meaningful uses for Feelings, which doesn't make it very worthwhile to work on the improvement of the Connections. There are three types of checks in the game: impression checks, used to build Connections, surprise checks and attribute checks, and all require spending the Feelings.

Impression check basically works fine, and they seem to be the very core of the mechanics. However, there are only so many NPCs to establish Connections with, and due to how other types of checks work, it's not all that useful.

Surprise checks seem to be fine in general, as their effects are very concrete and potentially pretty useful in certain context. However, unless the character wants to scare someone deliberately, they consume barely any Feelings. For accidental surprise, you compare your character's stat with the NPC's stat and consult a chart, and you can spend a few points of Feelings to lower your stat. However, in practice, I find it unlikely for the base difference to be higher than two points, and this only results in the NPC screaming in surprise. It's seems like a minor comedic effect that should press the players so hard to make spending the Feelings very important. Making surprise slightly more expensive and the effects of an accidental surprise more pronounced could be the way to go.

The remaining checks are binary success/failure tests. Their costs and effects are entirely up to the Narrator, and they feel like a "non-resolution" to me. Due to the participationist nature of the system and the way the heartwarming mood cushions failure, they don't seem like a very meaningful form of mechanical input. We came to the conclusion that in a game like this the effectiveness could be pretty much reduced to role-playing guidelines provided by the attribute levels. E.g. a character with a low Adult score should fumble most attempts to operate a computer, and someone with Animal 1 should not be able to climb a tree (or to climb down). I believe that this could be left entirely to the player's role-playing, with no resource management intruding (the player does gain an opportunity to earn some Dreams for cute enough portrayal of a failure, and the success can always get outright vetoed in case it would spoil the mood or ruin the scenario).

I believe it would work better if the focus of attribute checks shifted from success/failure to something else - something equally concrete, but more meanigful as a player input in the context of a participationist game. I've been thinking that since the player input is mostly aesthetic and boils down to providing little details in the framework of the Narrator's story, Feelings could be spent to affect the mood of the characters, based on the stat used, according to some chart similar to that for surprise checks, which would feed directly into role-playing, or something along those lines. Otherwise, there could be a Feelings cost attached to portraying the characters in certain ways. Overall, it's funny that I have this feeling like I knew what exactly the resolution should do in this game, but I simply can't put it into words clearly and formalize it as concrete rules.

Andy Kitkowski

Quote from: Filip Luszczyk on October 29, 2008, 05:39:30 PM
The first issue is the lack of a complete procedure for scenario creation (though this actually might not be a real issue, depending on the content of the still untranslated part of the document). In practice, I did come up with some formulas for designing scenes while writing my scenario, so I could probably refine that.

I had the same thought. I met with the author the other day, and asked him about creating scenarios for Yuuyake. Basically, he mentioned that the same problems are seen in Japan as well, people finding it hard to create a scenario.

Essentially, he said to keep it stupid simple. Instead of thinking what happens, simply start with an event (might call it a "Town Bang" or something). Something simple, in the tone of the game (a kid loses a basketball, a store owner can't find the key to her store, a kid gets lost, etc). And that's pretty much it. Don't have too much before that, or afterwards.

The thing is that, if resolved quickly, a roleplaying session can last like 30-60 minutes unless it's really dragged out. Which is fine, you just end there and move on to the next scenario.

A hard thing I think is to find something that's really that easy that's in line with the feel of the game, that doesn't involve suffering. We all watch too many dramas, we want to have that story where we help grandma do something before she passes away, or to help the kid with cancer, or help find the flower for the girl who turns out to be the ghost of a girl who died a year ago... all that is crap for Yuuyake, unfortunately. But with all the drama we get from watching media, it's hard not to drift a story to be more "meaningful" than it needs to be.

The Story Games Community - It's like RPGNet for small press games and new play styles.

Filip Luszczyk


The initial problem itself is, indeed, dead simple to create. The "someone is troubled by something; no evil intentions involved" formula seems to be pretty sufficient and covers a broad range of possible drama.

When I mention the scenario creation procedure, I mean specifically the "prepare 4-5 scenes" part that follows. The game (at least not the translated part) doesn't provide any tools to establish the contents of those 4-5 scenes.

Another thing I'm not sure about is whether there's place for including more than a single ending. How to handle sad endings, especially - whether they should be possible in the first place, and how to prepare them without breaking the tone of the game. However, if there should be no option of a bad ending, I'm even more confused regarding the purpose of the resolution and powers mechanics as they are (i.e. in the big picture, what's the consequence of a failure?).

Well, as mentioned in my report, I did come up with some general formulas for scene creation during my prep for this game. However, I need to refine them before they are any good and I have no examples to refer to.

Could you (or Ewen) briefly outline the contents of some official Story, scene by scene, for comparison purposes?

QuoteEssentially, he said to keep it stupid simple. Instead of thinking what happens, simply start with an event (might call it a "Town Bang" or something). Something simple, in the tone of the game (a kid loses a basketball, a store owner can't find the key to her store, a kid gets lost, etc). And that's pretty much it. Don't have too much before that, or afterwards.

I'm not sure if I fully understand you. I find this advice inconsistent with the text of the game, which clearly instructs the Narrator to prepare a number of scenes before the game.

Also, I'm not sure how a Bang would function in this game, given how much is fixed in terms of the range of choice available to the players. Unless I fail to identify the Premise.

QuoteThe thing is that, if resolved quickly, a roleplaying session can last like 30-60 minutes unless it's really dragged out. Which is fine, you just end there and move on to the next scenario.

Ok, this one is a complete riddle for me. We had scenes that lasted 30-60 minutes, and it didn't feel dragged at all. On the contrary, I think we might have skipped some role-playing that should have been there, and I cut some of the scenes a bit too soon, probably.

Now, I have no idea how with a Story lasting 30-60 minutes the group could still interact with the mechanics in any meaningful way. I imagine it would only amplify the problems with the GM-driven resolution and reduce the need to engage the game's economy even further.

All in all, I'm still struggling with the resolution procedure and the way it could fit the participationist gameplay. In the first place, what meaningful could be resolved by the rules, specifically, given that there's apparently so little margin for deviating from the key assumptions of the GM's Story? I still can't think of anything concrete other than changes in the characters' and NPCs' moods...