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Author Topic: [Venus 2141] The future has goo all over it  (Read 8347 times)
Ron Edwards
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« on: July 03, 2010, 11:32:20 AM »

Venus 2141 was published last year and was represented by its co-author and artist, Nathan Leeson, at the Forge Booth. I've been trying to get around to playing it ever since, and have not succeeded only for dumb reasons, for example I simply forgot to bring the book to Forge Midwest. I finally found an opportunity during my trip to Italy, with Moreno, Claudia, and Michele. (note to English speakers: Michele is a man.) It was only a short session, pretty much showcasing character creation and a few scenes in order to get a feel for the game.

Anyway, I'm currently engaged in a personal science-fiction-role-playing project, in a non-scheduled way. This is my second thread to talk about it; the first was [The Exchange / Justifiers] The right game with the right setting. The short form is that using my own, totally non-negotiable thoughts on what science fiction is or isn't, I'm investigating whether that's actually found in role-playing. The answer seems to be "yes," but not with a lot of games usually labeled with the term, so I'm writing and playing a lot about games which fit.

OK, to save repeating a bunch of stuff, so far this is what I have for the Venus 2141 draft, which in a more developed form would be what I'd pass out to players as part of prep. I'm effectively expecting you, the reader of this post to look at it in order to understand what I'm talking about. As with the Exchange/Justifiers sheet, I have to stress that that it's a draft and I wrote it before playing, so some of its points or priorities are behind the curve; also, although Nathan looked it over, I still have some outstanding questions and can't claim to be authoritative about the system. Oh - and I made one really stupid mistake at the very end, confusing the Pump House Gang with the one I really intended to reference, the Monkey Wrench Gang, after the book of that title by Edward Abbey.

The book as an object presents an entry-point problem. Part of it is a genuine design issue, some of it is bad luck, some of it is no big deal in my view but might be to others. Let's get it over with: there are no page numbers, there's a double running layout in many chapters, the pages pop-off after some use (consider the previous points in this light), the font is a rather tricky rounded bold non-serif thing, there are too many typos and minor disappearances of text at page breaks, there's a cortex-melting profusion of colors, and there's no character sheet, which is absolutely necessary to have as a physical object when making a character and while learning the system. All this makes the book's virtues, like useful icons at the top to indicate chapters, less visible. OK, I'm all done with that. You can imagine a whole slew of the typical snotty, dismissive comments that would characterize a "review" at most RPG-related websites. I ask that you go ahead and imagine them, and then we move on. See also the Soyuz Arts website, which is mainly a useful Wiki about all sorts of setting and rules stuff, and you can get the character sheet there.

Another entry-point stumbler is that the book seems setting-heavy, especially if you're doing a flip-based inspection rather than actually reading it. Still, I think that once you get the basic idea, it grabs hard. The first time I saw the book, I thought oh no, a thick wad of indigestible setting scribbles, and everyone I've shown the book to has the same initial perception. It's a false one. I took the (short) time to grasp the fundamentals of the setting, no more than one might be reasonably expected do for any game, and as it happens, you don't have to struggle to find the fundamentals, as the book does pick the key points to explain in the first chapter. After that, well, this is one of the few setting texts that I sat down and read cover to cover, eagerly, seeing how this or that thing fit into (or better, leaped out from) the core concepts. Nothing is mere trifle. On the other hand, you only have to be interested in one little area in order to play effectively there, so you don't have to know the book/setting inside and out. And again, the text itself, as simple prose, is clear, readable, organized, and effective.

I won't get into character creation here, but will briefly say it is incredibly fun. There are many details which again, at first glance, look like brain-scramblers but then turn out to be easy, with enough choice involved to be meaningful. My linked document has a couple of examples.

As for play, at first glance, it's pretty much in the Dogs or Shadow of Yesterday vein: free-play until someone deliberately or inadvertently sparks a conflict, conduct conflict resolution, apply consequences which typically change the landscape of viable character options, repeat. ... Except that the first glance is wrong. The game is built on two levels of currency, the first of which is pretty familiar to most of us here, and the second of which operates at a higher level. Especially once play gets going, the composition and initiation of scenes, the presence or absence of characters, what can or cannot be a conflict in the first place, and the intrusion of good luck and nasty fate, are all subject to funky point-spending as you go along. Conflicts become a sub-system of this over-arching system, and as far as I can tell, one of the important parts of play is deciding how many of your "victory points" go toward your immediate ends in the conflict, and how many get banked for the higher-level play or a future conflict. There's a lot of potential to "fail your way to success" in the long term, if you want. (I try to explain all of this more procedurally in the draft, so check that out, and I hope it makes sense ...)

OK, so we sat down and played, despite all sorts of fatigue and the upcoming craziness of prepping for InterNosCon, which to my great pleasure I had no responsibility for. Making up the characters went well, and we followed the instruction in the book to make them all part of a crew with a Venus atmospheric boat as their base of operations. We had the boat captain, the pilot, and a freaky passenger-type, along with various related NPCs coming out of the character creation process, some on the boat and some not.

We did three scenes, starting with deciding where their ship was (going to one of the most policed and conformist Hives) and what they were doing (a drug deal ... swell ...). I worked solely off the Murphy Point system and the various NPCs afforded by the characters themselves. So their ship got bushwhacked by guys paid for by a rival smuggler; the guys wore salamander suits basically turning them into human torches, and Claudia's character fought them on the wings of the ship. They got past her, but were stopped by Michele's character who effectively highjacked their personal reality-editor perception units (everyone wears these things). The final scene hopped foward in time, when I spent a butt-load of Murphy Points simply to kidnap Moreno's character and put him face-to-face with a nemesis NPC, a scary cop type.

Here are some of my thoughts coming out of it.

1. I think that it will be a specific skill to stay with the currency and to learn how to blow out the locks by using it. There's an interplay between the available fictional material (e.g. the list of NPCs for each PC, or various opportunities for disaster afforded through the PCs' Murphy'd equipment), the Murphy points available (the GM gets a certain number per session and can't save them), any number of novel things the GM wants to bring in, and whatever it is that the PCs are up to - and all of that, in play, must constantly interact with whatever the players want to spend their Player Points on. This is interplay seems quite sensible while reading about it, but it is quite open-ended and as I say, I think GMing this properly is going to require a new skill.

I'm not claiming expertise, or any certainty about how the system dynamics play out over the long term. I am claiming fascination and a desire to develop the expertise. I hope the others who played will chime in with their thoughts and interests.

To be more specific, I'm thinking about adversity. As the text points out, the GM's resources for a given session (in units of "dice racks") are a bit under-powered relative to player-characters firing on all cylinders. At first glance, the GM seems pretty under-powered, at least in terms of a head-to-head fight. That was my initial impression during the first scene, and I was thinking, "Geez, I better get good at using those Murphy Points, or these guys aren't going to be facing any real problems." But I'm not sure that's true, considering that in all three of our scenes, at least one player-character had a rough time. The dice can bounce badly on you in this game. Claudia's character was scarred during the fight with the salamander-suit guys, and she failed to repel them. Michele's character did screw their minds silly with a great dice roll, but totally compromised his character's own self-image and secure situation with the others. Moreno's character, if I recall correctly, murdered a cop to escape interrogation, and thus prompted all manner of blowback.

2. So that leads to the idea that the GM needs to embrace the crazy consequences of the conflict mechanics, many of which are pretty unpredictable. If I'm understanding this right, if you prep a couple of relatively logical encounters given what's right there in front of you (i.e. what the players are doing, and what happened in the last session), then the whacked secondary outcomes of those will pretty much write themselves into a scenario during play. In our case, after these three bits of play, I had a whole smorgasbord of cool things to do next, none of which could have been pre-prepped. That unpredictability comes from a lot of sources:

- "Books" (equivalent to victories in Sorcerer, with different mechanics details) buy outcomes that werent' mentioned previously
- Characters' perceptions and even identity are often in flux

It also seems crucial, and interrelated with these points, to play the NPCs really well and highly reactively. For one thing, interesting NPCs with this degree of possible response, aren't "beaten" just by winning a conflict against them, but rather become even more interesting. For another, personal relationships are a key motor in this game, especially in terms of setting up scenes and spending Murphy and Player Points. In our game, I got a glimpse of this when Michele's character altered the attackers' view of the world, and although he had enough books basically to scramble the guys' minds so badly they would pose no threat to him or the ship, I had enough myself to alter his character's important relationships with his own flunkies. The scene with the police guy interrogating Moreno's character was also sort of along these lines, and although I can't recall exactly how it turned out, I remember that after some book-spending, the conflict was clearly going to affect how these characters interacted in the future, with things like whether the PC escaped or not being less mechanically urgent (although in the moment, to the character, the most urgent).

3. The session sparked a strong discussion among us over the following day. We were talking about how much a person playing a character needs to know, and what to commit to, in terms of functional play, especially in a game with a certain group expectation for player-characters. Michele's character was quite strange, biologically a perpetual child, who could alter others' perceptions of reality so that they would parent him - effectively a mind-control near-psycho. Although he made sense in the setting, or least in terms of the technology of the setting, and although he was all made up in a reasonable fashion in terms of points, there was something missing and Michele found himself flailing slightly in terms of what his character might do next. Now, it's possible that could have been avoided if we were playing in a more serious long-term fashion, if we had the time to make characters and mull them over in a distinct session, and if the characters had been fully rounded out in terms of Gear. But maybe not.

Let me see if I can articulate this a bit better ... OK, let's say we're starting real play of a given game. Everyone has his or her character, and the GM (say me) has prepped, and we "go." And all of a sudden, you look at your character and it's just a pile of points and terms on a sheet of paper. You're not feeling it. You don't know how you came up with it. It looks sensible, but nothing currently happening in play seems to relate, either on that sheet or internally. You either start doing random shit in hopes that something clicks, or start strategizing in a vague way that doesn't have any real payoff, or you shut down. Michele didn't experience anything this extreme, but I'm stating it in an extreme way because I've been there occasionally, and I've seen it even more.

For some older thoughts on how information about characters and the various roles and 'classes' they may entail, see my old thread The class issue. In this case, I'm talking exactly about #2 in my 4-level scheme:

Quote
2) The character's explicitly functional role among the other characters, relative to the metagame goals of play, whether explicit or implicit. If it's a combat-squad game, then we have the gunner, the techie, the brute, etc. If it's a social-intrigue game, we have the scheming skunk, the idealist-organizer, etc.

This level is a kind of interesting interface between the people and the characters, because these roles are expressed in terms of what characters do, but they (the roles) exist at the level of the social contract among the people. I expect this one to generate the most misunderstanding, because it's also the most covert of the lot in terms of actual game texts and designs.

At this later date, I'm mainly talking about what aspects of the character - whether quantified or not, whether even written down or not - create a certain grounding for the player. I'm not talking about how anyone else understands the character at the outset of play, and I'm certainly not talking about any kind of agreement among the people playing, and I'm also certainly not talking about anything that the player has planned. It's a grounding, a sense of knowing that whatever happens, you are comfortable with playing this character's response, even if you had no prior idea that the character might respond that way. In the case of Venus 2141 (as I found with Hero Wars long ago, and suggest is also the case with The Shadow of Yesterday), this grounding has very strong links to the setting in question. Tony and Nathan's text is quite explicit in this regard, concerning the political and personal origins of the setting, and how to approach and introduce such content as a GM.

Our discussion eventually centered on Claudia's character instead, the boat captain, because it was pretty clear that the main inspiration for our set-up was Firefly, and her character was strongly reminiscent of Mal. Setting all other fandom-blather and fun enthusiasm about Firefly aside, especially any talk about the precise relationship of the movie Serenity to the series, I mentioned that to me, one of the most disappointing aspects of the series' cancelling was that Mal's real story had barely begun. I think it got its real start in the line, in the movie, "I aim to misbehave," which is to say, instead of being merely a disgruntled and marginalized smuggler trying to make it to the next day, he now perceives his life and his actions with his ship as raw political dissent. Looking at Claudia's character, it seemed to me - if we'd been able to play long-term - that this is exactly where her character began.

All this led me to think that when I organize a real game of Venus 2141, I'm going to point that out to people. Sure, you can make a plausible and rules-legal character in this game, but a great deal of the available material and options point toward that kind of political role (whether conformist or dissenting).

4. I have to repeat one thing I tried to emphasize in the handout/essay: the role of tech design and development. This is fun to do and much easier than it appears at first glance. Basically, you cobble together what the thing is in terms of substance and function, and that gives you its Quality. If you don't have enough Gear points (during character creation) or if you don't amass enough successes in your roll (during play), then you make up the difference with Murphy Points. There's a whole bunch of examples in the book ... but don't be fooled into thinking it's an equipment list. The whole point of the Gear system is that in the setting, the technology is in fast-forward flux, so the point of the mechanics is to find out what happens in the setting - you're supposed to go crazy with making shit up because that's what's happening in the fiction. And hey, what's a Murphy Point or two more? Next time I play, I'm going to go all tempter-ish on the rest of the group to give their collective Venus-boat a whole bunch of neat features, racking up Murphy-ness to do it.

I still can't get over the setting. It's truly excellent: fun and rude, satirical and honest, intelligent and extravagant, thought-provoking and colorful. The Differences between Cyberpunk 2013 and Cyberpunk 2020 thread is a relevant partner to this one, in that Nathan and Tony both disliked the shift from wet-and-gutsy first edition Cyberpunk to glossy anime Cyberpunk 2020, and wrote this game to address it. Jesse wrote in the other thread that he'd consider updating original Cyberpunk (i.e. de-80s it), and possibly this game has done that for him already.

Best, Ron
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Claudia Cangini
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« Reply #1 on: July 04, 2010, 10:58:32 AM »

OK, so we sat down and played, despite all sorts of fatigue and the upcoming craziness of prepping for InterNosCon, which to my great pleasure I had no responsibility for.

Before anything else I wish to warn whom might be reading my post that, when we played, I was horribly stressed out and tired because of the Con (unlike you Ron who, after a 11 hour flight and driving and walking around visiting italian cities, where still upsettingly clear minded and full of energy, putting us all to shame :P ).
So I remember things in a kind of blur and for this I beg any readerís  pardon (also this is a VERY crunchy game for my standards. Iím sure I made a scared face when you took out the character sheets).

The first thing I remember is that the setting immediately struck me as very close to the setting Adam Warren depicts in his last Dirty Pair comics. Itís a world where technologies allows open minded individuals to do REALLY WEIRD things, things easily affecting the whole world. Many things quite easy to do posit very heavy implications on the setting and the story of the characters and the people around them.

And Iím sorry but all I remember of the system was that we concluded ďit works surprisingly wellĒ.

We did three scenes, starting with deciding where their ship was (going to one of the most policed and conformist Hives) and what they were doing (a drug deal ... swell ...). I worked solely off the Murphy Point system and the various NPCs afforded by the characters themselves. So their ship got bushwhacked by guys paid for by a rival smuggler; the guys wore salamander suits basically turning them into human torches, and Claudia's character fought them on the wings of the ship. They got past her, but were stopped by Michele's character who effectively highjacked their personal reality-editor perception units (everyone wears these things). The final scene hopped foward in time, when I spent a butt-load of Murphy Points simply to kidnap Moreno's character and put him face-to-face with a nemesis NPC, a scary cop type.

And it really felt like our characters were the protagonists of the story (despite the scars and kidnapping)

Our discussion eventually centered on Claudia's character instead, the boat captain, because it was pretty clear that the main inspiration for our set-up was Firefly, and her character was strongly reminiscent of Mal. Setting all other fandom-blather and fun enthusiasm about Firefly aside, especially any talk about the precise relationship of the movie Serenity to the series, I mentioned that to me, one of the most disappointing aspects of the series' cancelling was that Mal's real story had barely begun. I think it got its real start in the line, in the movie, "I aim to misbehave," which is to say, instead of being merely a disgruntled and marginalized smuggler trying to make it to the next day, he now perceives his life and his actions with his ship as raw political dissent. Looking at Claudia's character, it seemed to me - if we'd been able to play long-term - that this is exactly where her character began.

Well yes. Later, while we were talking, I realized she was totally bound to become very quickly a political terrorist.

Sorry if my contribute to the discussion is so small. You can blame my feeble mind and my disappointing stamina for this ^__^;

Best!
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--
Claudia Cangini

http://claudiacangini.deviantart.com/
(artist for hire)
Moreno R.
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Posts: 547


« Reply #2 on: July 06, 2010, 08:12:52 PM »

Hi Ron!

I'm sorry about not replying earlier, I was trying to remember more from that game but I don't think I remember much more than Claudia. In part it was because, when we finally did get to play (the characters creation session was really too long it did took literally hours...), it was late and I was rather sleepy, and in part because playing only a single scene I am not even remembering very well my character.

But I remember a little better the preparation of the game, the presentation in the morning and some difficulties we had, so I think I can talk at least about them.

I think you didn't give its due to the game's problems as a object. It isn't only an aesthetic issue, it impacted very strongly on the process of play. Just to give you an example, if in the morning (during the first half of the character creation) I had some difficulty with the book, in the evening when I was more tired I really couldn't find anything, so I had to ask you about what my character could have as the last options. In a game like this, where (from what I have seen) every player should read the rulebook very carefully, the book's problem impact playability (to the extend of being able to play at all) in a very big way (and the fact than it took hours to create three character is a rather good example of this)

This tie to an funny note: when we let you choose what we would have played, and you took out from your bag Venus 2141, I was rather surprised: I didn't remember even having heard of the game. And the book format, the character sheets, the long list of equipments, the initial description of the game... well, it shouted "parpuzio" to me. So I was very diffident about the game at first, fearing that it was some kind of "sf heartbreaker" that you wanted to test upon us. (it's for this reason that, when I did learn more about the system and did see that it wasn't a parpuzio after all, I asked you if the game was "influenced by forge games"... learning only at that time that it was one!).

So I confirm the first part of what you wrote here:
Quote
Another entry-point stumbler is that the book seems setting-heavy, especially if you're doing a flip-based inspection rather than actually reading it. Still, I think that once you get the basic idea, it grabs hard. The first time I saw the book, I thought oh no, a thick wad of indigestible setting scribbles, and everyone I've shown the book to has the same initial perception. It's a false one. I took the (short) time to grasp the fundamentals of the setting, no more than one might be reasonably expected do for any game, and as it happens, you don't have to struggle to find the fundamentals, as the book does pick the key points to explain in the first chapter. After that, well, this is one of the few setting texts that I sat down and read cover to cover, eagerly, seeing how this or that thing fit into (or better, leaped out from) the core concepts. Nothing is mere trifle. On the other hand, you only have to be interested in one little area in order to play effectively there, so you don't have to know the book/setting inside and out. And again, the text itself, as simple prose, is clear, readable, organized, and effective.

It's true that when you did explain the basic premise of the setting, I quickly got interested. But the part that got me interested wasn't so much the "cyberpunk" one (I have to admit to have really never grasped what was so interesting about cyberpunk: when Neuromancer was published was reading... no, devouring wast amounts of sf, from Bester and Pohl & Kornbluth and Shekley from the '50 to the english New Wave and Thomas Disch, and then Ballard, and everything I could find by Philip Dick...  Neuromancer did seems to me as sf fast-food, easy, "cool" and shallow, sf for the '80 as Duran Duran was music for the '80..."mirrorshades", yes, that was the perfect name). And I never did read the Adam Warren comic that Claudia talk about.  No, the point that got me was "refugee on a draft...on Venus!"

I began to thing about a character who arrived as a refugee, with nothing, and slowly get "up" in the social scale by any means necessary (i.e.: crime). And to give him something to do (more about this later) I imagined it still at the lower rungs of the scale.

I had to compromise a little this mental image to be able to build him with the game lifepath system, but I don't know how much it was cause really by the game and how much by my inability to read the book. The only compromise that made me pause, anyway, was the one about giving him the equipment. This was the "cyberpunk" part returning to bite me in the ass. I didn't want him to be a superhuman, superstrong, superfast, with more arms, or something like that.  I didn't want the "powers" part to become too important. But it made no sense, in that setting, to have a "muscle man" that couldn't stand against every kid who could buy superpowers....  (I don't remember how we solved that problem, it didn't come up in play anyway)

I have a question about the system: when you did go fast-forward and did frame a scene with my character already tied up and prisoner of his nemesis, it was something you did to test another kind of situation or by spending points, the GM can really do things like this? Because I liked how it made possible a scene of that kind without the usual railroading necessary to get the character there, and by spending points and not at will.

The death of the cop in that scene did come up simply by the roll of dice: I rolled to knock him out and escape, but I rolled so well that when I saw on the "menu" that I could choose to kill him, I did so because it was, really, "what my character would have done" ;-)  (after all, it was a corrupt cop and he tried to kill me first)

I think I missed your conversation the next day about the characters, but I noticed some problem with Michele's character, too.

One thing I have learned to do, when I create a character, is to give them something to do from the start, to avoid the issue you were writing about. To NEVER create a character that "I like as it is", because, well, then there is no point in playing him, no? I could only "ruin" him playing and changing him. So, in long-term games, where I can presume to play the same character for a time sufficient to change him, I don't build the character as I want him, but "before" that.  So that I will have to work to make him become how I want. 

A problem I saw, in hindsight, with Michele's character is that it was complete. Static. A picture. "Do you know that I once played a social parasite in the body of a child who rewrote people's memory to make them believe they were his parents" "cool! And then?" "then nothing, it was so cool that I didn't want to ruin it playing it".

One thing I remember from the game is the way we were stumped trying to find any reason for Michele's character to simply be in the same ship with us. At the end we did come up with some half-assed story about how we were going to rob the laboratory who created him, but it was really contrived. His place wasn't in a ship with drug smugglers, it was nested in a home with stolen parents, enjoying the safeness they would give him.

He needed something in that character to ruin the picture. A fatal disease for which only the laboratory could have a cure. The stolen parents as only temporary, for a few hours, before returning as they were before (or dying). Something that caused him to move.
Logged

Ciao,
Moreno.

(Excuse my errors, English is not my native language. I'm Italian.)
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: July 27, 2010, 01:40:43 PM »

Hello,

Moreno, your character concept could have been developed in full by the rules, and it's my fault that you didn't see this when we were preparing. One can focus on how the character makes use of external technology, or even how they get by with very limited versions of it. In this game, the quantitative side of what you "get" is pretty much the same for everyone, even if this guy has bizarre biological apps built into his body and that other guy has a set of brass knuckles. In mechanics terms, Gear is primarily important in terms of (i) whether it gives the GM Permanent Murphy Points, (ii) what Goals are built into it, and (iii) what can go horribly wrong with it. It's not important in terms of bonus dice, at least not in terms of comparing different sorts, because Gear doesn't provide very many dice no matter what it is. A simple metal stick with both Wounding and Stunning, some concealability, and a customized story-Goal built into it will provide two or three dice, just as much as a high-tech bug-hive built into one's body complete with controlling pheromones.

There's also the issue of gear which is special and effective, but not spectacular or super-powered. Back in the late 80s and early 90s, one of DC's comic titles was Suicide Squad, written by John Ostrander and Kim Yale. One of the long-running secondary characters was a guy named Briscoe, a taciturn and obviously psychologically damaged guy who maintained and flew the fighter-copter he called Sheba. Briscoe and Sheba were key members of the team, very formidable in a fight in the right terrain, often crucial to a mission's success and/or to members' survival. I refer to the helicopter as a character only because Briscoe thought of it as one, specifically his dead daughter after whom it was named (it was wholly a machine, not mystic or techno-conscious or anything like that). He could give it verbal commands through a headset, in a scary combination of loving soothing phrases and military jargon. "OK, Sheba, lock and load, bogey at eight, fire two. You can do it, baby." In an early issue, another character attempted to describe Briscoe's tactics to him in a friendly way (and helped bring the reader along too), and all Briscoe said was, with a panel close-up on his eyes glancing away, "Sheba knows her daddy." The comic never gave the specifics of Briscoe's back-story, and he wasn't ever especially developed as a character, which in story terms was probably a good idea because the mystery was just present and relevant enough to be fascinating. The ending to his personal story also demonstrated that some mental scars are too deep to be healed.

After reading your post, Moreno, I was thinking about such a character for Venus 2141, or at least equivalent in terms of equipment, and it was very easy to do. The gear rules are all there for constructing such a personal connection with a vehicle, both in it and remote. In retrospect, I remember focusing mainly on the biological Apps during our character creation process, which are more super-powers like ("tail," making your body into an insect hive, hooking up trespassing-modifiers into others' VR programs, et cetera), and apparently did not make it clear enough to you that other concepts of character competence were readily available.

The rules for boat-building, in particular, seem well-designed toward this sort of end. The player-character group gets a simple boat for free. Any character can spend Gear points to modify it. That led me to think about Firefly again: how the prostitute character had her own little area of the ship, one of the lifeboat pods she'd modified into a kind of apartment and independent communications center.

The "who we are and what we do" step of character creation and prep
This is one of the great black holes of RPG skill sets, and it's a shame we haven't talked much about it over the past ten years, because I do know a lot about how to deal with it. All the way back in the 1980s, I developed a group-discussion, handout-based technique that oriented everyone and focused attention on what should be done (by us, meaning specifically us) with the options for character creation. The trick was not to front-load too much, to provide not so much a set of instructions as a kind of lens through which to focus upon the otherwise bewildering range offered by the game text. It was also important to provide only enough to be inspiring.

You can see some hints about this in my Sorcerer & Sword text concerning prep content. It's a weird mix of Setting, Situation, and Character, because it combines them in a specific way, but stops short of specific adversity. It's kind of the "larger situation" if you will, not yet specified to character but about whatever characters we make ... but at the same time, providing limits or focus so that we cannot make just any characters. It's not quite the equivalent of Issue in PTA terms, because it's more concrete in terms of the upcoming fiction and also applies for everyone rather than each individual. If you go to the examples in PTA, it's more like the Series Concept which then helps a lot in terms of the individual Issues. So for example, I'm talking about "bootlegger family" as opposd to the issue of Alcoholism for one of the characters. Clearly there's a balancing act involved which is highly game-specific. Too much and you've front-loaded the story; too little and at least one person will flail, possibly everyone. But the proper point of balance differs greatly per game.

Best, Ron
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Moreno R.
Member

Posts: 547


« Reply #4 on: August 06, 2010, 03:34:48 AM »

The venus2141 website expired a week ago.  As far as I know the game was not carried by IPR or any other distributor or fulfillment service, so it seems it's gone.

It's a pity, but not a surprise: in hindsight the publishers didn't follow any of the "forge wisdom" born from other's past mistakes: a big, full color game, from unknown authors, without any previous discussion, no pdf version, no preview, no hype of any kind.  Ron was the only one to talk about the game here. Not the creators.

I hope that they will publish a (corrected) pdf version someday, to give this game another chance.
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Ciao,
Moreno.

(Excuse my errors, English is not my native language. I'm Italian.)
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: August 23, 2010, 07:19:59 AM »

I meant to reply to this earlier, but forgot.

Moreno, what you wrote illustrates a concept I profoundly disagree with: that games are only worth playing insofar as they are being actively published and that their owner is commercially still viable. This is the "dead game" concept - that once a game is no longer in print, or no longer "supported," that the actual role-player should ignore it.

I don't understand that concept one bit. It strikes me as raw consumerism, mistaking the commercial identity and cultural branding of a product for its actual value. Should one stop listening to a record album if the band breaks up, or the record company no longer exists? Stop reading a book because its author is dead, or the original company that published it no longer exists?

My answer to these questions is no, of course not. It's the same for role-playing games. I suggest there is no such thing as a "dead game." If you own the text, or if it's available to you, then you can play the game. If the game is being played, then it's part of the role-playing landscape exactly as much as any game which is receiving massive publisher promotion and advertising, and for which multiple secondary products are being regularly published. One of my first realizations in 1994 or so, upon casting my attention across role-playing content on the internet, was that Marvel Super Heroes was one of the best-loved and most widely-played RPGs, and had been since it was published. Was it "dead" in subcultural terms? Yes, as a doornail. Would considering it genuinely dead and ignoring it in terms of whether to play it, or in terms of designing new games, be smart? No, that would be stupid, then and now.

Over ten years ago, as I decided to stay with self-publishing and realized that "graduating" to selling my game to someone else was idiotic, I met a fellow in a game store with very strong opinions. In an aggressive fashion, poking his finger and with a fight-threatening glare, he told me that the single variable that determined his loyalty (his word) to a game was support, i.e., whether a game continued to be represented by multiple products and looked to be so represented indefinitely.

That guy was being stupid. He was a consumer, not a role-player. He was an economic puppet, not a usage-based customer. He was a supply-side victim, not a participant of a market. He was proudly, and as I said socially aggressively, boasting of having his pocket picked.

Here's another point, which is that anyone can run into trouble with a website or personal organization. The Soyuz Arts site only went down a week or two ago. It seems graceless to assume instantly that the company is out of business and that the game is out of print. The Adept Press website (sorcerer-rpg.com at the time) was replaced by a boring financial investment page for almost a year in 2000; the Burning Wheel site regaled us with Russian porn for a while, if I remember correctly. If the people who enjoyed those games had the attitude you just illustrated in your post, then both companies would have sunk. Does that sound like a good idea to you?

Venus 2141 has a lot to offer. It's a damn good design and a lot of people would enjoy playing it, and would benefit conceptually as members of the hobby and potential designers and publishers. Even if Soyuz Arts is gone, that fact doesn't change.

Best, Ron
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Rafu
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« Reply #6 on: August 23, 2010, 08:17:11 AM »

Ron,

while I profoundly agree with you on this matter, you should also concede that discontinued web support etc. made it a lot more challenging to actually get one's hands on Venus 2141 (the instruction text) in order to play Venus 2141 (the game), for anybody who hasn't already.

Knowing Moreno pretty well, I believe this was what prompted it to post about his indignation on The Forge... but that he can speak for himself, of course.

My point is that the investment in time and effort tracking down a "discontinued" game product is the same required to acquire and try out several "actively supported" games, making it less worth it in the context of one person's life: especially with the amount of creative activity currently flowing through our "indie" roleplaying design scene, the "discontinued" game really has to be somehow exceptional for me to pursue it rather than trying out several other titles. This way, the many games which are good and well worth playing but not the most outstanding of the crop... those games risk becoming dead for real once they become not easily available to the public.
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Raffaele Manzo, or "Rafu" for short. From (and in) Italy. Here's where I blog about games (English posts). Here's where I micro-blog about everything.
Moreno R.
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« Reply #7 on: August 23, 2010, 11:11:47 AM »

Moreno, what you wrote illustrates a concept I profoundly disagree with: that games are only worth playing insofar as they are being actively published and that their owner is commercially still viable.
[...]
Venus 2141 has a lot to offer. It's a damn good design and a lot of people would enjoy playing it, and would benefit conceptually as members of the hobby and potential designers and publishers. Even if Soyuz Arts is gone, that fact doesn't change.

Ron, you're preaching to the choir there. I could rebuild everything in your post simply quoting things I already said very often in Italian forums or elsewhere...

I did not say that the game was "dead". I said it was "gone". As in "you ask me how can you buy that game...  ehm... I don't know, right now I don't really know of any way, really, to get a copy. Not from a distributor, not from a shop, not even as a pirated scan on the web. It's gone. let's hope it will return".  GONE is not DEAD, even if the site return in a week, all it mean is that it was, really, "gone away" for the entire week.

Marvel Super-Heroes was NEVER "gone". If someone ask me for a copy, I can cite shops, e-bay vendors, second-hand stores, personal ads, where you can easily buy a copy. Not counting the amount of photocopies of the rules around (then) and pirated scans (now). I can find you a copy in 15 minutes. Tops.

Hell, I played two years with a game "dead" from more than 15 years... Runequest II.  Before the web, before the scans, without ebay, without, really, any way to get a "real" copy, and in a rpg-poor country literally thousand of miles from the nearest copy in a shop... all you had to do to get a complete set was to ASK and someone in the local gaming circles would have photocopied you the entire set of RQII books from his own photocopies of photocopies of photocopies that someone did years ago with a true, real, precious set of RQ II books..

So, if I say that Venus 2141 is AT THE MOMENT, "gone", is not because I don't see it in the next Alliance catalog. I think I didn't even look at that catalog for... ten years now, I think, maybe more. I am not talking about "ohhh...  it's not in the Catalog of Next New Shiny Things...  I suppose I will not buy it, then...", I am talking about "hell, I can find you any rpg published in the last thirty years, I can find you original D&D from '74, I can find you even the old pre-print version of Sorcerer's supplements (you signed them to me in Italy, remember?), I can find find every version of FATAL and every version of Wuthering Heights RPG. And what I can't find you, somebody will. And that somebody is simply a google search away. We are not in 1999 anymore. But I can't find a copy of THAT game. It's like it never existed"

When I say "gone", I mean "I can't find a copy anywhere. Not even a scan. The only one I ever saw was in Ron's hand, no shop or distributor has ever carried it as far as I know, and the web page is gone"

If the web page returns next week, with news about a contract with Amazon to include a free copy of the game with every shipment of books in the world, it doesn't change that fact.

I am saying all this not because I did take offense from what you wrote (well, a little, but this is not the point), but because this new kind of "disappearance act" for new games has nothing to do with shops, distributors, catalogs, and all that. That was 1999's battle. It's over,  You won.  Nobody with any sense of reality these days could even say that a game is "dead" because it's not in a distributor catalog or doesn't have a lot of monthly supplements. But doesn't mean that A LOT of games aren't still disappearing for different motives and in different ways these days. In silence and without having left a lot of loyal old fans like RQ or MSH.

If you would not have written about it, nobody would have EVER wrote a single post about Venus 2141 at the forge.  Or anywhere else.

And it wasn't the distributors, the catalog, the shops' fault this time. I think (my personal opinion, obviously) that the game's authors made really a lot of errors, that shoot the game in the foot before even starting to race. Errors completely independent from the game's quality,  I could be wrong, and in any case, I understand that it's always easier to say these things in hindsight without being in the creator's shoes and having sometimes these choices forced upon you by necessity.  But I think that, when we talk about games that FOR NOW are "gone", it would be much more fruitful to try talk about the reason why, in 2010, with all the means available now to assure that a game will never be "gone" forever, something like this could happen, instead of assuming that everybody who bring up the question is still saying the same things some clueless WW or WotC fan said in 1999....
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Ciao,
Moreno.

(Excuse my errors, English is not my native language. I'm Italian.)
Moreno R.
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Posts: 547


« Reply #8 on: August 23, 2010, 12:00:24 PM »

By the way...

So, if I say that Venus 2141 is AT THE MOMENT, "gone", [...] When I say "gone", I mean "I can't find a copy anywhere.
[...]]
If the web page returns next week

The http://www.venus2141.com/ website linked by Ron and Me in our respective posts is still gone, but this time google cough up some other results.

I found one used copy on ebay, but, more importantly, the Soyuz arts website is up (I think I checked it too before posting two weeks ago, though... but I can't really be 100% sure) at this address:
http://www.soyuzarts.com/doku.php

I don't think this invalidate anything I said in my previous post, but it's another chance to get the game for anybody interested.
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Ciao,
Moreno.

(Excuse my errors, English is not my native language. I'm Italian.)
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #9 on: August 24, 2010, 07:06:39 AM »

Yes, OK. I would like to distinguish between (i) your actual views/values and (ii) the likely implications of your post for others who have not been deeply involved in the independent scene, and then I'm willing to concede in full.

We could debate "gone" vs. "down," regarding websites, although that gives rise to vulgar puns at least in my mind, and it wouldn't be important because ...

... apparently we agree regarding my concerns in my post. Which is great. And I was unfair in ignoring your mention of potentially posting a PDF, that's true too.

It so happens that at my house I have a few copies of the game from GenCon 2009. I'd be happy to send them to whomever is interested, if I can get a confirmation from Tony or Jason about that. I mean, if there's some way for them to get paid. If they're out of stock or not able to ship for whatever reason (they both travel a lot), then maybe I can be fulfiller for them at least for that limited amount. Let me send them an email and if I get an affirmative reply, I'll post to say so.

Best, Ron
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