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Author Topic: [Zero ] Dingo for dinner  (Read 7981 times)
Ron Edwards
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« on: October 08, 2010, 10:27:36 AM »

A couple of weeks ago, I brought Zero, one of my favorite RPGs, to the Dice Dojo. Peter and Megan joined me, and we ran an opening session, up to and including all the stuff I'd prepped. Zero plays pretty fast, so we had time to talk afterwards, and we're determined to follow up with further play.

Zero's publishing history offered me an object lesson when I was beginning Adept Press. In the late 1990s, Ken Whitman started a publishing company called Archangel Entertainment. It lasted only long enough to put out two games simultaneously in 1997. Both were quite slim, standard-game size paperbacks. Zero was considered big-budget at the time, all in color, with color plates by Steve Stone, retailing at $20 - very pricey at that time for a supplement-sized game. Extreme Vengeance was a little thinner and staple-bound, with a colorful cover but otherwise on much plainer paper and a few illustrations. My understanding is that the printing of the latter piggybacked on that of the former in some kind of special deal, and that the art for EV was done for free. So it's kind of an A-side B-side thing in terms of production. Archangel Entertainment appeared to be a point-and-shoot operation, and I speculate that it was junked as soon as it was clear that the games were not being re-ordered, in a classic case of what I wrote about in The Nuked Applecart less than two years later.

Zero was written by Lester Smith, whom I don't know but as a gamer, I think of him as a major idea man whose work has not seen the fullest expression of those ideas due to publishing companies' foolishness. The game was incredibly innovative and well-designed. Extreme Vengeance, by Tony Lee, turns the grim stillbirth story into twins, as it is worth a whole textbook of game design discussion, prefiguring a good 50% of the design work done in the independent scene after 2000. But they both fell into a subcultural black hole. Regarding Zero, I don't know anyone else who's played it aside from me and my friends.*

Zero played a major role in my own game design. For one thing, it wholly clarified to me that "character creation" is not actually what we usually refer to; that character creation occurs only via play, and the character sheet prep is exactly that, prep. For another, it provided the only fully dramatic and fully logical action-by-action turn-order sequence I'd seen until that point, which I promptly looted for Sorcerer. (Getting ahead of myself slightly; it's interesting that Smith had some difficulty explaining the order/action system, and I struggled with it too, despite its functionality.)

One reason I'm revisiting it is that I'm still working on my slow but fun science fiction RPG project, seeking to create usable how-to and prep sheets for all the games I think of (utterly idiosyncratically) as "real" science fiction. Zero qualifies in spades. Also, it's been a long time and I simply felt like playing it and having a good time.

Anyway, the premise of Zero is the existence of a substantial underground community called the Hive, whose cybernetically-modified inhabitants ("biomechs") are specialized along caste/task lines. They don't breed and live primarily toward the end of completing their assigned tasks (Soldier, Archivist, Breeder [actually a kind of medic], Technician, Drone); they are all psionic and linked telepathically, which creates a kind of warm and fuzzy community support at all times. Most personal drives are met simply by feeling them, resulting in either generalized or Breeder-administered satisfaction through psionics and drugs. There isn't any outright mind control going on, but with that level of purpose and satisfaction, little to no independent reflection or discussion occurs. The society is numbered, in sequences from 1 to 9, then 10 through 99, then 100 through 999, and so on, with the lower number series having more managerial authority. At the peak is the semi-mythical figure of Zero, or Queen Zero.

The GM/player arrangement is generally traditional, with a good distinction between exactly what everyone knows going into play, exactly what gets established as knowledge through early play, and exactly what is canonical background vs. customized background. The text describes the Hive, but its precise location (e.g. on Earth or not), overall physical circumstances and extent aside from being underground, and origins/history are left up to the individual GM. Zero's game mechanics are described, but who she is or what she wants, if anything, are left up to the individual GM as well. The mechanics details of what it means to be cut off from the Hive are explained, but why and how it has occurred, at this time, to these characters, are left up to the individual GM. In other words, any and all back-story is to be customized to a particular GM's interpretation of what would be most fun and interesting.

The player-characters are ordinary community members of the fairly service-based, low-authority number series, who become disconnected from the Hive in the first few moments of play. After that, play takes off running.

There is absolutely no personality or other individualized detail in character creation; the only options concern Hive task specialization within one's caste. There is a canonical Abilities list, of which you get several at "Focus" level, a couple or so "Priors," and the rest are Untrained. You get some cyberwear and gear and maybe choose a little more - that's it. Effectively, the player-characters are discovering themselves as individuals (priorities, boundaries, strong emotions, even gender) as well as the world.

At first glance, the system is composed of two distinct levels: resolution during play, and an improvement step gaining experience points and novel abilities between sessions. The former is pretty neat and elegant, although as I recall, it was mis-characterized as "zero-sum" in what little discussion of the game could be found at that time. It's true that the more Focus abilities you have, the higher your target number.

H'mm, I should explain. Dice are rolled in a fairly standard action/goal context. Every roll is 2d6, multiply the results for a range from 1 to 36. This roll is assessed based on what sort of ability is being used:
- Roll Focus or above to succeed at a Focus ability (units of 10 above Focus yield more levels of success)
- Roll Focus or below to succeed at a Prior ability (one level of success maximum)
- Roll below Focus to succeed at an untrained ability (one level of success maximum)

It's not really zero-sum, I think. The range of rolling high is pretty good, so increasing your Focus target number is not a dealbreaker, although it's just enough to notice in practice. Going "very Focused" with a low Focus value definitely eats into your Priors and untrained chances, but a mid-level at 5 or 6 actually makes those abilities rather notable in play if not fully reliable. I think that somehow the 2d6 curve is wonderfully shaped to give every Focus level its own recognizable "good at" profile in play.

Penalties and bonuses either modify the value of the lower die rolled, or the degrees of success of a successful roll. So no matter what, you roll two dice, this never changes.

OK, all that said, what really matters is the between-session step. This is way more than it seems at first glance. First, you get experience points, blah blah ... except wait, two things. (i) You can use them to shift Prior and Focus status back and forth for abilities, and you can upgrade untrained abilities into Focus level. (Note that the Focus value is merely the number of Focus abilities and so "follows suit" without its own alteration mechanic.) (ii) You can spend them during play. Oohh! All of a sudden, experience points are not so much about ability so much as about current behavior priorities, meaning, anyone can have any Focus value for whatever abilities they have at Focus or Prior, depending on what you want at the moment and however many experience points you've harbored.

Second, and watch this closely ... between sessions, you get to roll Cleverness (an ability) to name a novel ability, of your own invention, based on something that happened during play. If you make the roll, it becomes a new untrained ability on your sheet, in a section dedicated to this purpose.

Did you see that? (i) The new, hitherto-unknown, player-invented abilities steadily make a person out of the previously generic Hive "biomech." And you don't need to spend experience points to be permitted to make this roll; it's automatic. (ii) Note as well that you can spend experience points to upgrade them to Focus level too, just like any untrained ability, to go into the Focus-or-Prior status that you alter through later experience points as you see fit.

In other words, in playing Zero, you slowly create your own customized-ability character sheet as well as its specific-character contents. You might find, for instance, your character being entirely composed of novel abilities or perhaps former Priors at Focus level, with all the original Focus abilities now relegated to Prior. And even better, as I mentioned before, the combination of which are Focus and which are Prior is always adjustable, given the experience points, during play itself.

This is really interesting. In my past games, the novel abilities were hugely important, full of personal history, rich in relationships simply due to their origins in crisis situations, and highly indicative of what the players feel, very intuitively, to be the primary human content of the characters' situation. I was deeply affected as a GM by the fact that I had no guiding hand regarding who these characters were, which was a huge shake-up because I had learned to exert considerable personal influence over the group's creative standards, priorities, and development of characters through a decade of nearly constantly playing Champions.

Well, my gaming has undergone a lot between 1998 and 2010, but I was quite certain that my enjoyment of Zero would be even better for it. For this game, I decided upon a rough notion for the Hive, that it had some political shake-up in its background when Zero and her inner circle were killed and replaced durign a policy dispute. That gave me three areas for the Hive: the parts in current use; the older areas that were more extensive but which fell out of maintenance during the shake-up, never restored; and the very interesting areas that were pre-Hive. I came up with an internal sketchy "map" in my head that would help with general directions for these things. Oh, and I decided what the world was and what it was like, which I'll keep to myself at the moment. Just so you know, in my previous games, I decided the Hive was actually a terraformed space-ship, so I'm doing something different.

As far as the immediate scene framing for the start of play, it depends a lot on the character castes chosen. As it happens, the most limited character type in terms of movement is the Archivist, who spends a lot of his/her/its time lying in a drawer, plugged into sockets. As with my previous most long-term Zero game, sure enough, someone wanted to play an Archivist, which means it's not very logical to start in, say, a commissary. Instead, again, I decided to start with characters on an unusual task/mission that required an Archivist. (I do want to play without one some time, so I can start in a commissary or breeding-lab or whatever, deep in the Hive instead of already out there in the margins. Besides, Archivists are a bear to GM, as they can get information really fast, meaning I have to prep a ton more.)

Naming your character in Zero is simultaneously hilarious and scary; you just roll some dice and write down the digits. Peter played the Archivist, 14634, and Megan played the Soldier, 13541. One of my Drone NPCs became important, so I "named" him/her/it 41526 during play.

OK, so I framed them into an area being newly recovered, as it happens, near the old command center. I figure the one used by the current Zero is a jury-rigged duplicate. The idea is that the new/reduced Hive needs some information from the old records, so a little squad of a couple soldiers, a couple drones, a technician, and an archivist are sent to go get it. They of course have no idea about the back-story and are simply off to do their jobs. It's a bit scary, with roving dingos and so on, but two soldiers are a good defense (they are really tough, by the way).

And wham - instant Hive separation, no warning and no explanation. When the player-characters try to re-connect telepathically (and the immediate NPCs too), they only find one another. For a bit, they thought of themselves as the surviving Hive, just as the NPCs thought they were obvious intruders. A kind of bizarre, traumatized fight ensued, including 14634 trying to connect with the other soldier and succeeding, so for a moment the soldier had both "Hives" in his mind. He blew his own brains out. 13541 tried to save the technician from the "enemy," and failed, but as it turned out, one of the drones did stay, because 13451 did succeed excellently in implanting "we are the Hive" into his/her/its mind. However, a messed-up similar attempt on the technician only succeeded in alerting the real Hive that someone was telepathically skulking about the perimeter.

I haven't played with an NPC Hive-exile before, as it seems to me that Zero is a game that draws great potential from the GM/player distinction, especially the starting knowledge for both. There is no mention of playing such characters in the book, which is possible negative evidence for the practice being disfavored in the design. So I have a fairly interesting task ahead of me now.

The text describes a number of creatures that infest the margins of the Hive, and my favorite are the dingos. I'd mentioned fleeting glimpses of them ever since the start of the session, and a little while after the "awakening," they started to attack what was obviously a lesser number of and lesser-organized targets. I don't know why, but I have a kind of talent for playing pack-hunting, tactical foes of this kind. Anyway, a kind of pre-fight duel began between the characters' scanning abilities and the dingos' teamwork in setting up an ambush, and so the circumstances of the fight, when it came, incorporated a very exciting inevitable logic. It fascinates me how a good dice and conflict system can contribute far more to in-game plausibility than the most meticulous front-loaded prep, the kind which would have dictated a fight in a particular place under pre-planned circumstances.

There was a particularly nice bit in the fight when the last dingo managed to leap past (via "on") the two hefty characters and get onto 14534's hover-car; for a split second, I described their faces in profile, the drooling, starving, enraged dingo and the childlike, bulbous-headed Archivist. Peter responded with a great in-character face, somehow capturing 14534's wordless realization that life had really, really changed. They did finally kill the dingo, but cooking and eating it was a problem, as the pulse cannon turned out to be a lousy griller.

Not having a Breeder is going to be a problem! Not only are they barely competent at dealing with food, they have little idea what their bodies need, or if they do, how to go about it well. They don't really understand that their cybernetic parts are not part of their tissues.

(more)
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: October 08, 2010, 10:28:03 AM »

I'd spent a bit of time prepping the core of the former Hive "bridge" or "inner chamber" or whatever one wants to call it. It was circular, with nine sort-of throne or console sets inset into the walls. One of the key features was a dead woman in the biggest pod or chair, with no "mech" to her, more-or-less preserved in her sprawled, killed position by a kind of amberous splat. This led to the characters wondering whether this was a Zero, and even the use of the indefinite article with that word was enough to throw them for a loop, as well as raising the fascinating question of what their own former Zero even looked like. 14354 jacked into the system in one of the seats/insets, and successfully zapped the bugfuck out of his/her/its brain.

The Archivist character type can be crazy powerful with a wide-open knowledge base and refined telepathy. Peter tried hard to get a good idea of the extent, nature, and details of the Hive, which ran ahead of my prep a little. Fortunately this particular outcome put an end to that, with me scribbling in my notes, "Finish Hive history and mapping for next time." As with a couple of previous events, the dice led to enough interesting and consequential failures to keep even very powerful and rather meta-abilities from subverting play.

That night, I had been up for several nights working on a project, and my wife was out of town so I was sole kid-caretaker too. I was more than a bit tired and not quite on regarding the numbers. I know one dingo probably lasted a little longer in the fight because I forgot to apply its penalties for injury, and there are some nuances to psionic abilities once you're cut off from the Hive which I couldn't keep straight well enough to apply when it was necessary. Fortunately Peter was right on it, because he is a rules-absorbing machine. I'm writing about this because it is incredibly helpful and relieving to separate the rules-jock leadership from framer/NPC guy leadership, as I wrote about in You've Landed on Gaming Group "Park Place", Pay $15 Rent. It was important to me to be playing Zero by the rules, in detail, no corners cut, but my brain simply wasn't up to it, and Peter's attention to that helped us all enjoy play better, and for me specifically, to get what I wanted. I'm really liking the way the people at this game store night are able to wrestle a bit with rules sets, accept the learning curve, and not get bent out of shape about someone stepping up to be the rules guy. (I think it was Timo who mentioned, regarding a different game night at the store, that he found it distinctively different for "the GM" not to be both rules-authority and framer/NPC guy.)

The last items of play concerned a brief debate about names. They didn't like their old Hive numbers, but 14634's helpful suggestion that he/she/it be #1 and the others be 2 and 3 didn't go over well. "We could each be 1/3" got floated but stalled when they realized no one would know which was which. It struck me as slightly deeper than it sounds - the characters were discovering the relationship between labels and hierarchy, and without realizing it, were questioning the basis of social rank as a form of identity.

The after-session event is to see whether the characters gain new abilities as defined by the players. The Cleverness rolls yielded "Psi-dar" for Peter, a new or modified psionic ability allowing generalized sweep-awareness, and "Naming" for Megan. Poor 13541 didn't succeed in the roll. It's not surprising that two of us then spent experience to upgrade Cleverness!

I mentioned above that we're talking about continuing the game, which Peter and Megan confirmed to me again this week. I'd already prepped what I'll need as GM. I'll probably try to break out a get-together with them outside of the Tuesday night routine, which is currently enjoyably unconstructed. We are totally juiced about the characters and potential, and I'm also relieved and excited that indeed, the game is still challenging, provocative, and flat-out fun to play given the twelve rich years of role-playing since the last time.

Finally, a few years ago, Ralph and I discussed the difficulties in the text concerning scenario preparation and overall emergence of stories as sessions go by. The text is a bit ambiguous about this in a way which I find very easy to understand, as I was myself grappling with the same issues and Smith's presentation mirrors my own thinking in about, oh, 1994 or so. Ralph saw it more as the same-old railroady text, whereas I saw it as a kind of struggle between what you know doesn't work and what you think the putative GM reading the text will need, or "must" have based on habits of reading and playing. I'd like to resurrect and continue that discussion with Ralph or anyone, if that seems interesting.

Best, Ron

* There are five reviews currently available at RPG.net, some of which mention actual play; none of them describe play in the sense of the Actual Play forum here. The ratings show how diverse responses to the game are. I agree strongly with James MacPherson's description of Zero as the "game of the anti-Borg" and also with the two highest-rating reviewers about the game's surprising intellectual depth. I would like to stress that both the reviewers who scored it low acknowledge that it was a lot of fun to play.
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Daniel B
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« Reply #2 on: October 08, 2010, 02:58:26 PM »

I haven't read Zero, so maybe I'm misinterpreting .. but that whole bit with the Cleverness reminds me an awful lot of the "immediate XP" of the EvenDice game proposed by a "Danny" (I don't know his last name). The link to the post: http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forge/index.php?topic=28033

While Cleverness sets up the new abilities between sessions based on some meaningful in-game event, EvenDice does it at the table. All in all, I'm a huge fan of the idea precisely because it really does give the character a lot more life.


On another note, Ron, would you be willing to describe more fully the "dramatic and logical action-by-action turn-order" sequence you mentioned?

On a VERY very very rough level, it sounds similar to an idea I had for handling actions, where it's not the players (and NPCs) each getting a turn in order in an endless cycle. Instead, those who wish to change action simply do so. Otherwise, repeated actions are summed over.


Dan
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Arthur: "It's times like these that make me wish I'd listened to what my mother told me when I was little."
Ford: "Why? What did she tell you?"
Arthur: "I don't know. I didn't listen."
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: October 08, 2010, 04:36:52 PM »

Hi Dan,

I need to break out three distinct aspects of reward/improvement mechanics because I think it's easy to mix them up.

1. Spending earned points to gain new abilities and/or improve old ones.

i) between sessions.

ii) during play.

2. Gaining new abilities through game mechanics that don't involve earned points.

PART ONE
The Zero rules actually eliminate part of #1. You do not start new abilities with earned points. You spend points only to upgrade from untrained status or to exchange status (Focus to Prior or vice versa). The roll is devoid of points.

Regarding the new abilities, you can have any number of experience points, including none, and at the end of the session, you still get to roll Cleverness to see if your new, customized ability enters your sheet at untrained level. This is so different from most systems that it may have blown right by your reading.

It's also important that shifting an ability from Focus to Prior, which in most systems "demotes" it, is more nuanced in this case, because you might be doing it to bump up your chances with Focus abilities, and you're anticipating, or more interested in, using a Focus ability that you're not changing to Prior, with an increased chance, than the one you're changing. So I'm calling that a form of improvement as well even though the ability itself is decreased in effectiveness.

PART TWO
Spending experience points during play instead of between sessions is a long-standing hack going all the way back to the mid-80s in my experience, and probably well before then. A slightly stealthy version of it is "burning experience for a bonus," which was standing practice for a long time before we started seeing it in rules.

But as far as improving abilities during play is concerned, the earliest game I know of that included it in the text was Morpheus (1989, Propaganda Publishing),* which actually raised it to an art form - you pretty much spent everything you got, all the time, with only minor lulls in not spending. You can find this rule in all sorts of RPGs after that, especially slightly off-beat ones. It was hugely important in Obsidian (2000), which was much more edgy in both content and system than it appeared at first glance.

I hope that all makes sense. Let me know.

Best, Ron

* Another forgotten gem. I don't know if it plays as well as it looks, and it's about as fiddly as you can get and be freewheeling at the same time, but I sure want to try.

edited because I forgot to finish a paragraph - RE
« Last Edit: October 08, 2010, 04:40:17 PM by Ron Edwards » Logged
David Berg
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« Reply #4 on: October 18, 2010, 12:55:24 PM »

Hi Ron,

Start as just one of the hive, and then gradually invent the attributes that describe you?  Sweet! 

Pondering scenario prep for the Zero concept, I have no idea what I'd do.  I'm tempted to say, "something like what you did, complexifying and threatening the PCs' connection to the hive," but that may be post-reading bias.  If you feel like posting chunks of the text, I'd be happy to weigh in.

Amen on your points about char-gen via play; this is something I really miss when running one-shots with pre-gens.

I'll echo Daniel on being curious about the turn order.

Ps,
-David
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: October 19, 2010, 10:19:31 AM »

Hey guys,

Sorry about missing the order/action request until now.

David, the book's pretty up-front about the starting scenario, which is always supposed to be the moment when the characters get mentally separated from the Hive. Since the reason for this event is wholly left up to the GM, that also means that the circumstances and any apparent cause are left for individual prep. The example has it happen inexplicably right in the middle of ordinary tasks and daily life.

The explanatory text for how to set up later scenarios is ... well, it's of its time. Speaking again as someone who was grappling with precisely these issues at precisely that time, I can sympathize with some of Smith's choices in phrasing and content. It was really not cognitively or communicatively possible, then, to say, "You have all the material you need for stories to emerge through play, so just do it." You can see the wheels turning in the text as sentences are posed, then seem to hang there, then are 'resolved' through slightly contradictory references to planned outcomes.

You can see the same thing in the Sorcerer text too, which had been released in its first form a year before Zero came out. I wrote a little bit about how I only worked my way out of the morass through play itself, in The First Ever campaign setting.

Regarding the order/action issue, Zero works like this.

1. Everyone announces actions, i.e., commits their characters, no going back.

2. Everyone rolls and finds their numbers by multipling the dice.

3. Actions go in order of the numbers, high to low. Note that this is sort of interesting because depending on whether you're using Focus, Prior, or untrained abilities, the order does not exactly track to most successful rolls.

4. If an action occurs, targeting you, before you act, then you have a choice:

i) take the damage itself, hard-core, without any defense applied, and go ahead and penalize your upcoming action and existing roll accordingly (damage merely modifies the rolled dice so this is mathematically easy and requires no unknowns or additional techniques).

ii) abort your planned/initiated action and roll dice for a defensive ability appropriate for the attack, whether Dodge, Brawl, or Will.

4'. If an action targets you after you've already acted, you get the defensive roll hands-down, and you get as many of these as you need.

So the group just works its way through all the actions in order, with some of them probably getting aborted along the way.

You can see Sorcerer's complex conflict system here with almost no modification. The only really significant changes are that the 4(i) option includes a one-die defensive roll rather than totally sucking it up, and the penalties applied to one's upcoming roll, if you miss the defense, can become additional dice for the attacker to add to the initial roll.

Best, Ron
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David Berg
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« Reply #6 on: October 19, 2010, 12:50:17 PM »

Ron,

Thanks for the action/order description.  Those specifics are new to me (when I played Sorcerer at a con, the guy running it wasn't quite fluent), but the basic idea of "commit, determine order, resolve in order (sometimes preempting later actions)" seems quite familiar.

Regarding scenario prep, that link is a fun read!  I've had plenty of individual sessions like that -- "Hey, we're good to go!  Any prep would just be shoehorning." -- but it's never been perfectly sustainable.  As for Zero, it sounds like there's sort of a group kicker ("You just lost the hive!") as opposed to personal, character-specific kickers.  Given Zero's premise, it seems hard for any PC not to be motivated into action by this, so perhaps that's a step up from the traditional GM pseudo-kicker of "Your arch enemy has stolen your infinity gem and now threatens to destroy the world!" or some other impersonal situation.

Not sure if "personal" is the key here, or whether "authored in collaboration with each player" is more to the point...

What you've described of Zero thus far leaves me wondering, "What might the characters do now that they're hiveless?" without being fully confident that, as GM, I could facilitate whatever they decide.  Am I going to enable a detective mission to find out how the link works and what broke it?  Am I going to poke them with issues of individuality via aberrant NPCs?  I imagine the self-defined attributes might serve as flags in this respect, and once we got some momentum going, it could be easy.  The first few sessions could be quite an improv challenge, though, absent further guidance or pre-play agreements.

All that's speculation.  I guess it depends on the group's background; whether the players are primed to proclaim, "Now we care about this!" and whether the GM has an eye for what elements he'll need to introduce to give himself traction and situation fodder.  In my experience, none of that is safe to assume, so I wonder what Zero does to help.

Ps,
-David
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Callan S.
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« Reply #7 on: November 05, 2010, 12:34:17 AM »

I was thinking of asking what issues the whole idea of a hive and sudden reflection of individuality (if any) has in connection with real life society. As in what the author was trying to convey, what reaction upon reading the text gave, etc. But I thought it might be shoving in a demand for a connection so I let it go. However in the bliss stage such a connection was drawn to teenage sexuality, quite directly. So I'd ask about what connection this has to real life issues. I could think of a few.

Side note: I didn't know extreme vengence was tied to zero in some way. I own EV - bought it because it did have mechanics which I didn't yet own and might play differently from how play had been. The luck mechanics were interesting (though in the end, more dice, IIRC). I liked that for each 'pip' that came up on a die, your guy got another fan (and fans were somewhat like XP). Dice always meant a result and one that was atleast to some extent, always positive and tied tightly back into the system. Making going to dice fun in a particular way, rather than something that you'd rather utterly avoid or simply go through to keep the status quo.

I actually distinctly remember picking up a copy of zero in an Australian store to look at it. Sadly the premise put me right off - it seem to take the very concept of 'the GM's whole world wants to kill you' and ramped it up infintesimally. It's actually interesting to compare what came to my mind to the account here, as what came to my mind is that the disconnection with the hive would happen within it - so your surrounded by hundreds of motherfuckers and your completely out of your head disorientated. There seemed no play there at all, bar 'the GM toys with his food' play. Indeed the blurb said something like your chances being zero...and I fully agreed and put it down. In this account - hey, the disconnect happens outside the hive. Sure, with some dangers around, but not absolutely surrounded by fuckers. Perhaps shows how a blurb can make a difference.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: November 05, 2010, 11:31:09 AM »

Hi Callan,

You wrote,

Quote
I was thinking of asking what issues the whole idea of a hive and sudden reflection of individuality (if any) has in connection with real life society. As in what the author was trying to convey, what reaction upon reading the text gave, etc. ... So I'd ask about what connection this has to real life issues. I could think of a few.

I am obviously not Lester Smith, so I can't tell you what he was trying to convey. I can only talk about what's there in the book, and I do think that a lot of the text across several chapters speaks directly to this. These are some examples out of many:

Quote
Zero is, at heart, a game about individuality versus community, self-determination versus conformity, freedom versus obedience. Cast out of "paradise," the central characters long to return, on the one hand, but recognize that to do so would be suicide to their newfound sense of self. Like William Blake's "Tyger," they have fallen from blissful Innocence into the realm of painful Experience. No longer lambs, they do not belong within the Equanimity any more. Even if they could find some way to return to the fold, that really isn't an option. Having lapsed from the Equanimity once, they have tasted freedom, and would surely lapse again.
(bolding is from the text)

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Characters in this game, then, are "rebels without a clue," at least at the start. They never asked to be expelled from the group, and they haven't had any prior experience at thinking for themselves. ... Now, without that guidance, they have to deal with fear, hope, desire, and rage all on their own.
And there is certainly plenty for the player characters to be angry about. To start with, it's pretty obvious that Zero has used them as little more than machines. While she lives eternally, they and their fellow hive members slave away for little more than her psychic approval. Now that they can see beyond the illusion of peace and tranquility, they find that the hive is actually a harsh, cold place filled with discomfort and danger.

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Some mysteries are never truly answered. Where do we come from? Why are we here? What is our purpose? Why is there evil? What is good? What is our responsibility to others? What is their responsibility to us? Questions like these have been debated in every human culture since the beginning.

With questions like these, we may guess and suppose, but may never really know. Still, it seems to be human nature to ask them, and to suggest answers, and to struggle with one another over those proposed answers.
Zero is all about that struggle.
(bolding is from the text)

Again, without getting into issues of author's intent, I read that as least compatible with, and perhaps proactively instructing towards, Story Now priorities in play.

As a related point, I mentioned above that the Hive back-story is deliberately placed in the current GM's hands, without textual instructions. There is no "Zero universe," just as there is no Sorcerer universe. It may be that we as authors did that for the same reasons. Speaking for me and Sorcerer, I think that the character-centric Premise potential is already so solid that any canonical setting would only distract from it. Or to put it better, I want each GM using my game to use the setting he or she thinks will be most effective and fun to help "awaken" or perhaps exacerbate the character-centric Premise. I cannot know whether Lester Smith had the same creative notions when writing Zero as I did with Sorcerer, but I do think the text above, and many examples, point to some similarities. Every time I've played the game, others besides myself have become extremely excited about exactly that Premise.

You wrote,
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I actually distinctly remember picking up a copy of zero in an Australian store to look at it. Sadly the premise put me right off - it seem to take the very concept of 'the GM's whole world wants to kill you' and ramped it up infintesimally. It's actually interesting to compare what came to my mind to the account here, as what came to my mind is that the disconnection with the hive would happen within it - so your surrounded by hundreds of motherfuckers and your completely out of your head disorientated. There seemed no play there at all, bar 'the GM toys with his food' play. Indeed the blurb said something like your chances being zero...and I fully agreed and put it down. In this account - hey, the disconnect happens outside the hive. Sure, with some dangers around, but not absolutely surrounded by fuckers. Perhaps shows how a blurb can make a difference.

As a minor point, I do not think that awakening within the Hive would instantly be a death sentence, especially since the characters are already very familiar with at least some of its layout. It might be require a little bit more prep and some techniques concerning players' information, but such a beginning isn't unimaginable. I grant you that the book provides no heplp with that, and starting instead at the Hive's periphery removes the question.

I definitely see your point about the blurb. I almost automatically discount blurbs when I look at a product of any kind, so I didn't have the same reaction. It's also possible that you and I had (at that time, 13 years ago) different hot-buttons about how a game might not be fun, so my take on GMing was different, leading me to read the blurb as a come-on rather than a threat.

Also, it's true that not all the text in the game is as Premise-centric, and the chapter about scenario prep and play is arguably if vaguely more compatible with Participationist play. My personal take on that is that it reflects the difficulty of writing about that stuff at all at that time, but I also recognize that another reader might see that material as front-and-center and not tune into the more Premise-y stuff as much. I do think that the latter material is written more emphatically and is more consistent throughout.

Best, Ron

P.S. I completely agree with your points about Extreme Vengeance. I recommend you try it out with some friends as soon as you can. One of these days, I should post about my games played back in 1998-99.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #9 on: November 06, 2010, 01:56:06 PM »

Hello Ron,

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Again, without getting into issues of author's intent, I read that as least compatible with, and perhaps proactively instructing towards, Story Now priorities in play.
Fair enough, I just wondered if the author explicitly tied it into real world events as well. I was curious as to what he might have been shooting at.

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I think that the character-centric Premise potential is already so solid that any canonical setting would only distract from it.
I thought that "there is a hive, they are dangerous and the break in connection" is the setting? The setting is the two (or more) main things running into each other and in conflict with each other over that. Or perhaps that's just how I remember settings, come to think of it - I'm not really into the minutae detail like whether people X wear red hats and people Y speak with a lisp, or whatever. It may be a side topic, but I'm trying to grasp what 'canonical setting' means, as opposed to what I think of in terms of the word 'setting'? Does it mean really, really sweating the small details?

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As a minor point, I do not think that awakening within the Hive would instantly be a death sentence, especially since the characters are already very familiar with at least some of its layout. It might be require a little bit more prep and some techniques concerning players' information, but such a beginning isn't unimaginable.
In terms of my estimates, I don't think it's a point. Your describing your own reaction to the text, that doesn't mean some other GM is going to react in the same way as you. Granted, my estimate of what reaction would generally occur might be incorrect. But that'd be determined by some survey, covering say atleast 50 people (preferably thousands, but whens that ever gunna happen?).

Perhaps peversely on topic, but what is it to try and transmit the idea that the procedure involved doesn't lead to a death sentence? I mean, if you convinced everyone, say, who is involved in the roleplay hobby that the procedure isn't that - well, it'd be technically true, as the procedure everyone practiced, if they ever played zero, is a non death sentence procedure. But say it wasn't true to begin with and the procedure, on contact with how most people think by default in 1997+ was that it's a death sentence (or GM plays with his food play) - in that case it was the merely an assertion of a truth, a false one (procedure A is actually the one that'd happen), that lead to an actual truth (people start practicing procedure B). I was wondering if the author was getting at this stuff? Certainly it's not psychic, but it happens in a perceptual blindspot enough to make it mystical. Also, not picking you out in particular on this - I'm describing what possibly is a widespread human behaviour and in concert with that behaviour, vulnerability. Roleplay seems to produce bonsai versions of global phenomena.

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It's also possible that you and I had (at that time, 13 years ago) different hot-buttons about how a game might not be fun, so my take on GMing was different, leading me to read the blurb as a come-on rather than a threat.
For what it's worth as I said, I just didn't see any play in it, rather than a threat. Play comes from atleast two oppositional forces and their tussle - and I could only see one force, in my reaction to the blurb. On blurbs, I'm not so sure about ignoring them. How does one go in informed, at all? I did also flip through it, I'm pretty certain, but I saw the usual - stats, skills (I think?), fluff text (fictional descriptions). Ironically, the more text there is, the less it informs in the moment. I didn't exactly sit down in the game store and read it (not permitted by the store owner, I'd guess), so I didn't read any chapter that seemed more participationist. I just scanned and I didn't see that second oppositional force.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #10 on: November 06, 2010, 02:51:20 PM »

Hi Callan,

Seems to me that you're arguing, but I don't want to argue. When I say, "I think," it doesn't mean "you should think." I would enjoy talking about the way we respectively saw the texts, with perhaps the interesting context of thirteen years' difference from now, with no need for either of us to lay claim to how it should be read. That's why I went into all that stuff about the author's intent, to get it out of there and focus on us as readers. You don't have to concede anything or defend against it. Your first post led me to connect with you as a fellow role-player; your last one unfortunately makes me tired, and I have to sign off here.

Best, Ron
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Callan S.
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« Reply #11 on: November 06, 2010, 06:24:42 PM »

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I would enjoy talking about the way we respectively saw the texts
Ron, I engaged it as I did because in terms of doing what you describe I can't see any value in doing this? It really hadn't crossed my mind at all for that reason. I mean, if we were going to game together, or to purely socialise, or in terms of book sales/why I didn't buy it, then I could see value in it. Otherwise, what? I suppose I consider the way in which I see the text as, in itself, relatively worthless (and equally how you see it, the same - no disrespect meant, it's a perfectly equal dismissal of value for both parties). So I wouldn't and didn't consider talking about that subject? Is there a value to stating how we see the texts that I've missed here? Genuinely asking - I just can't see any value in either of our perceptions of the text? Your tired, I'm baffled.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #12 on: November 08, 2010, 09:31:27 AM »

Let's talk about Extreme Vengeance instead.
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Christoph Boeckle
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« Reply #13 on: November 08, 2010, 11:08:43 AM »

Hello

I got really jazzed by this AP and immediately tried to order a copy of Zero. It seems nowhere to be found, not even at Crazy Egor's where Ron forwarded me to (they have lots of other old stuff though). If anybody has a copy they want to sell or could indicate to me where I could buy one, please PM me. Same for Extreme Vengeance by the way.

(edited to fix link - RE)
« Last Edit: November 08, 2010, 12:20:45 PM by Ron Edwards » Logged

Regards,
Christoph
Renee
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« Reply #14 on: November 08, 2010, 05:35:22 PM »

Christoph,

Noble Knight Games has it:

http://www.nobleknight.com/searchresultsnew.asp?search=zero

This thread made me want to revisit the text but when I went to do so, I discovered my original copy had been lost (probably in a move somewhere).  So I ordered a new one over the weekend.  :-)
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