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Author Topic: [Keen Edge of History] First Time Play  (Read 3385 times)
Cliff H
Member

Posts: 49


« on: January 05, 2011, 04:46:42 AM »

Keen Edge of History is the game I created for this round of The Ronnies, and wouldn't you know that two days after I submit it a combination of work travel and lingering holiday vacation sapped me of half my regular gaming group. So, instead of cancelling our session, I asked the guys remaining if they'd indulge me in a little playtesting. They did.

You can find the rules for the game here: http://www.1km1kt.net/rpg/the-keen-edge-of-history.

The game had a few constraints on it. We meet weeknights because between young children, work responsibilities, and general busy social schedules my group has a hard time finding free weekends. But getting together after work in the middle of the week works just fine. Because it's a work night, however, we only have a couple of hours to give the game, sometimes literally. On a good night, everyone's there close to on time and we get about 3 hours in. Last night was not one of those nights. In addition to one person (of two) showing up a little late, we were further delayed because the host wanted to finish watching the new Captain Marvel/Superman team up movie. So, left with two hours, we set out to learn the game, make characters, and play an adventure.
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Cliff H
Member

Posts: 49


« Reply #1 on: January 05, 2011, 04:47:37 AM »

Character Creation
I was a little apprehensive about this part, since the two players I had were good, but the sort that tend to rely on the system and the GM to lead them along in an RPG, while this particular game starts with, effectively, "write a story." There was a period of silence as they worked the keys, but I was pleasantly surprised at what they came up with.

One made a sword of obsidian with a keen edge that hungered for flesh and the ability to bend shadows around it. It also, for some reason, gifted its wielder with the ability to influence birds. This was a Prize sword; would be wielders needed to brave a shadowy cave in the mountaintop roost of a roc in order to lay claim to it for a generation.

The other sword was forged over years of time by a man condemned to a bloody arena. As a smith, he was exempt from fighting and instead maintained the gear as a slave, but he watched all of his family die on the sands one by one. Over the years, he collected fragments of the broken weapons and forged them into a short sword locked inside a gauntlet, and hammered every blow with hate. This sword was instrumental in overthrowing the monarch and seemed to develop a taste for delivering a single, decisive blow. It also served as an effective rallying point for rebellions and aided in the fomenting of such movements by letting the wielder move about unnoticed.

These are stripped down from the text I got, which contained more specifics in terms of names and places. I think the fact that they were typing on laptops as opposed to scribbling on paper encouraged a little more verbosity. What was encouraging, however, was how readily they took to the idea and how they were able to come up with concepts for their characters that worked perfectly within the confines of the game with no guidance from me beyond the initial explanation of the game.

Sagas
That is, until we got to writing the swords' sagas. Here, I clearly need to update the original text, because both players wound up writing usable sagas, but kept them broad and general, like their initial legends, instead of homing in on specific, individual deeds credited to the blade. So Vengeance (the actual name was cooler, and in Latin, and I can't remember it right now) wound up with a saga that read something like: "Time and time again, it has been found in the hands of a general leading a popular revolt against tyrannical rulers, only to slip into the mists of history when the regime is overthrown." We can make use of that, for certain, but it lacks the specific feel I was shooting for in this subset of the blade's history. Given that I got something similar for Shadows (again, not the actual name), I was failing to communicate something.

We figured out what that was collectively. Sagas should be a few sentences long, but each sentence should be a specific accomplishment. Better still, if these sagas specifically mention a sweep of time, it goes a long way toward establishing the feeling that the sword is old and has been around the block a few times. So instead of "time and time again," you get: "When the casteless outcast Kor lead a popular uprising against the decadent King Ehndrin, he lead the revolt with Vengeance in his hand. Ten generations later, Kor's own descendant, King Bhelan, faced overthrow at the edge of Vengeance in a revolution that shattered the dynasty and placed a humble monk in charge of the people. The kingdom would know peace for two centuries, but when the Chantry of the Maker turned from a benevolent rule to one of oppressive tithes and excess, they too fell before an enraged populace lead by a low-born general wielding Vengeance."

Spending Points
The math portion of the generation session didn't take long. You don't get a lot of points to spend, and the ambient and invoked abilities of the blades were self-evident; no one needed to comb through his legend looking to tease out details into a game effect. The one oddity I noticed was that the Record attribute given to Wanderer blades is useless at level 1. You need to buy it up to level 2 in order to make it do anything. Still, it's arguably the best of the three special attributes, so an increased cost might be warranted. There's just something about the idea that a player could spend points on something and get nothing out of it that doesn't sit right with me. Incidentally, that's exactly what happened initially.

Both players spread their points out, so they had ratings of 1 and 2 in a bunch of things. This undoubtedly had an effect on play.

At this point, their blades were done. The process took about 45 minutes, which is long for something designed as a pickup game. However, given that you keep the same sword from adventure to adventure, this is a time cost that you only pay once. I also wonder if the actual implements had anything to do with gen time. Computers seemed to encourage longer passages, but at the same time these players certainly type faster than they write. Given that one of my players offered to reach out to some people who he thought would be interested in this kind of game for a second playtest session, I'll have some opportunity to compare pen vs keyboard.

Hands
Where making the blades took the better part of an hour, I was very happy to see that making hands took about 10 minutes, and half that time was me explaining what they were and how they worked.

What struck me as interesting was how the two players approached hands. Vengeance's player created a quick story and identity for his hand. He was Camrin, a young farmboy who recently lost his family and came across Vengeance quite by accident. Shadow's player didn't bother; his hand was there to serve the sword's legend and that was all. History wouldn't remember his name.

Shadow's hand started with a Worth, which took a little back and forth to design. He was initially dismayed at how specific it had to be. His first idea was the ability to infiltrate communication networks. I said it was a good start but he needed to specify what kind of network; he eventually chose carrier pigeons, to tie into Shadow's gift, but he despaired that it was too tightly focused to see much use.
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Cliff H
Member

Posts: 49


« Reply #2 on: January 05, 2011, 04:48:39 AM »

Quest Design
With characters done, we moved into the quest of their generation. To save time and get the ball rolling, I provided the ultimate threat: a necromantic king was driving a horde of risen dead across the land and threatening to strip the life of everything in it's path. Pretty standard stuff, but with everything else being new, I wanted something familiar for them to latch onto.

The players rolled their Bard, with Vengeance making no saga declarations, and Shadows opting to declare his arc for Vengeance's saga. That bonus put him well over the top, and he won editorial authority over the first arc. Working together, they decided that the first step in their quest was marshaling an army of their own. They would start in Camrin's kingdom, where the king had begun sending resources to the necromancer general. A little more discussion had those resources become people, lead off in great marches to be slain and raised. They decided the prisoners had not yet been sent, but were still being gathered and held at the castle.

At this point, they declared themselves done, so I turned them loose on the village, and we discovered they weren't done.

As I said before, these two players are the sort that are used to more guidance from the session's plot, usually written by someone else. They created the situation, but didn't create a hook for themselves. They had a goal, but couldn't seem to figure out what to do to get started. So I threw in some more details specific to the village they put themselves in, with guards looking for any excuse to clap people in irons and send them to the castle. That lead to a little bit of motion, and then they drew up short.

"How are we going to team up?"
"We'll assume you do."

After some jokes about meeting in a tavern and receiving the swords from a mysterious cloaked man who bids them go on a quest, they got underway in earnest.
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Cliff H
Member

Posts: 49


« Reply #3 on: January 05, 2011, 04:49:33 AM »

Actual Play
Things kicked off with Shadows intercepting a carrier pigeon sent from the village. He was delighted to learn that since he could script the arc, he was free to make carrier pigeons an important part of the guards' communication, and thus ensure his ability would see use. They discovered that the guard stations were sending census numbers back to the castle, likely so that the king had an idea of how many people he could sacrifice to the necromancer general. They decided that was enough to inspire revolt, but didn't think to keep the note.

They marched back into town and immediately began sowing the seeds of discontent. Vengeance's hand was very much Knight oriented, and took the direct approach right away, standing in the village green and railing against the king and the local guard. Shadows worked the crowd from within, beginning whisper campaigns that got them murmuring reinforcing points.

It took a tiny bit of adjustment, but the two quickly got the hang of the hand attributes and narration points, and while I did have to ask them to provide outcomes for their actions for almost the entire first scene (they kept looking at me to provide that), this too eventually fell away. Pretty quickly they dictated that between the two, they got the attention of both the crowd and the guard, but that the guards were separated into two groups by the gathered villagers. When the guard finally moved on Vengeance, a quick roll left him with enough narrative points to say: "They put their hands on me, and I kill the hell out of all of them." He took their weapons, armed the biggest among the gathered, and they stormed the guard station. Shadows, in the meantime, grabbed a uniform, threw it on, and ran ahead of the crowd as if he were a guard under attack. They let him in just ahead of Vengeance's mob.

What followed was a grand melee, and while it was a little more complicated than straight up conflict resolution, it flowed easily enough. Again, my players were a little disoriented by the fact that there were no target numbers or hit points, but when Vengeance learned he could describe taking a blow however he liked as long as he had the narration points, he took great delight in toughing through a pommel strike to the head in true action movie style. The fight took a few rounds, and ended with our heroes executing the guards, burning the guardhouse down, and then using their excess narration points to not only rally the villagers, but cement their loyalty to Vengeance. They weren't fighting for their village anymore; they would fight for and follow him.

One brief overland trek later saw them at the castle gates. They snuck inside the courtyard, then split into two teams. Vengeance began an assault on the walls from the inside, while Shadows took advantage of the confusion to slip inside the castle proper in search for the king. We handled this by giving each player his own task with its own threat rating, and said they couldn't use narration points to help one another until they were again rejoined. Despite running two scenes simultaneously, the narration point mechanic made sure we could make continual quick cuts between both characters on an ongoing basis. I'm not sure how this would hold up with a larger party though.

Vengeance had horrible, almost statistically impossible luck with dice, so his assault was continually plagued with setbacks and casualties. Shadows, on the other hand, lied and snuck his way through to the king's chamber almost unopposed. The end of the evening saw Vengeance's forces huddled just outside the castle gates surrounded and taking losses, while Shadows ended a duel with the king by throwing him out a window, which he specified with a narration point overlooked Vengeance's men. Vengeance killed the king (making sure the monarch landed on the sword, with his face), and used the body as a psychological assault on guards. From above, Shadows, still in a guard's uniform, shouted in that the king was dead and all was lost. The men surrendered, and the arc concluded.

Advancement
We rolled bard again, and since the arc dealt with Vengeance's saga, it was no surprise he came out on top. Still, there were only two players, so it's not like anyone had to scrounge for details. Vengeance of course took the tale of the popular uprising to add to his saga, while Shadows took the infiltration of the castle in the heat of battle for his advancement. As this was all we played, there was no opportunity to test how this works over time.

Analysis/Obervations
Naturally, playtesting revealed a few shortcomings of the system, but it also highlighted some things that went surprisingly well, and some other oddities that were neither good nor bad, but merely interesting.

First, the bad. I think there needs to be more guidance on arc creation in the text, especially for players used to pre-written scenarios. My players put together a fine mess of a situation that required their attention, but they had no clue how to engage it once they did. There's nothing mechanical necessary here, but clearly more explicit detail on what should be included in a quest arc is required.

Second, the swords themselves didn't have as much influence as I expected. This might be because the swords my players made were spread thinly; they wanted to make sure they tried everything. But because of this, they had ratings of 1 in almost everything. Despite the claim of the game, it really was the hands doing most the work in this playtest.

There were also a couple of occasions where the back and forth narration lead to some good places, but the player couldn't take the desired action because it didn't fall under the aegis of the attribute he rolled. For example, Shadows rolled feint to pretend to be a guard, and made his way to the king's chamber. I used one of my own narration points to say there were guards posted outside. He countered with a quick backstab and throat slit. Since this was by surprise and from behind, it fit Feint perfectly fine. But when I then said the doors were sealed, he wanted to cut them open with his sword, claiming they were made of wood and thus vulnerable to its keen edge. That sounded perfectly cool, but that's an Arms action, not Feint. Instead, he called the king out, claiming that assassins had killed the door guard and that he wasn't safe. That was a Feint action. The thing is, there was no good reason for him not to cut open the doors, and it was a pretty cool visual, but the rules don't support slipping back and forth between attributes right now. I'm not sure how to tackle that.

I also realized early on that anything worth rolling needed a Threat rating in order to be worthwhile. Without that, characters could walk all over everything. In addition, I had no parameters for assigning die pools to myself, but their need became obvious quite early as well. Without opposing rolls and narration points of my own, the characters can't ever fail. It might take them several rolls to overcome a high Threat, but unless something is actively working against them somehow, success is just a matter of time.

On the flip side, Threats as damage capacity was quite freeing, and made tracking battle awesomely easy. We were able to run it all in our heads, and people were spending 99% of their time thinking about what to do and how to describe it rather than calculating pools and looking over modifiers. Handling time was supremely light, and resolution was simple. The hot potato version of narration, once we all got the hang of it, facilitated a flow of action that kept everyone involved, and keeping the number of details wedded to narration points ensured that the opportunity to talk and act moved around the table quickly and frequently. We used the net narration version only once, when individual actions weren't as important (it was something of a montage sequence), and that went as fast as you'd expect, but felt no less satisfying. I imagine hot potato is going to be the default narration method though. The extra detail seems to add a lot to the play experience.

As I noted earlier, low ranked sword abilities don't influence the game very much. I'm not sure how well sagas will correct this over time; we didn't have an opportunity to test that. I also noticed that my players were stingy when it came to their expendable resources. No one wanted to use their invoked ability, since you can only use it once per quest, and there was a lot of reluctance to spend saga points. I have a feeling this is more a knee jerk reaction to wanting to hold onto options, and that it might fade with greater understanding of the game, but it was something I noticed on a number of occasions. Even when I reminded players of their available options, I'd get a head bob and a drawn out "Yeeeaaahhhh..." in reply.

Finally, I noticed something unexpected. My players really did play their swords. Even Vengeance, who had created an identity for his hand, by and large ignored the human and focused on the sword. They did plenty of talking and lots of non-combat activities, even some good amount of logistical management, but they way they spoke was different from other games. Instead of speaking as a character saying the lines, their tendency in this game was to relate everything as if it were a story of something that already happened. When Vengeance stood in the village green and railed against the king, he didn't deliver the actual speech, but described its contents, and then how people reacted to it. The same for Shadow and his whisper campaign. Both of these players have been with me a long time, and they know I'd normally require the actual delivery, but they didn't offer it this time, and I didn't feel the game needed it. Because they were taking up the mantle of also describing the outcome, their focus shifted, and while this did depersonalize the character play, it also felt appropriate. People, the hands, are not the focus of this game, and swords don't go through personal angst.

As a closing note, while the hands didn't get a lot of direct character play, their general attitude did come through quite a bit in the actions they took. The hand Shadows had in this quest turned out to be a devious man who got through most situations by lying and tricking other people to do what he needed. Camrin, via Vengeance, on the other hand, was brutish. He always went for the frontal assault and looked to overpower the opposition. Where this becomes important is that I think it is through hands that swords in this game can really begin to feel ancient. Because even hands who don't have a name or personality do, through virtue of their mechanics, influence the feel of play, changing them every quest will almost certainly give an impression of time's passage. And when remembering quests from before, it will be in the context of a different hand, a person who lived long ago and is no longer here. But the sword is.
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Troy_Costisick
Member

Posts: 871


WWW
« Reply #4 on: January 05, 2011, 07:20:48 AM »

Heya Cliff,

Nice report!  Very thurough :)

Quote
There were also a couple of occasions where the back and forth narration lead to some good places, but the player couldn't take the desired action because it didn't fall under the aegis of the attribute he rolled. For example, Shadows rolled feint to pretend to be a guard, and made his way to the king's chamber. I used one of my own narration points to say there were guards posted outside. He countered with a quick backstab and throat slit. Since this was by surprise and from behind, it fit Feint perfectly fine. But when I then said the doors were sealed, he wanted to cut them open with his sword, claiming they were made of wood and thus vulnerable to its keen edge. That sounded perfectly cool, but that's an Arms action, not Feint. Instead, he called the king out, claiming that assassins had killed the door guard and that he wasn't safe. That was a Feint action. The thing is, there was no good reason for him not to cut open the doors, and it was a pretty cool visual, but the rules don't support slipping back and forth between attributes right now. I'm not sure how to tackle that.


I don't see how this is a bug in the system at all.  I see it as an instance where the player was learning the system.  The brute-force/bust-my-way-in method does not fit the character of Shadow at all, nor does it fit his motivations and actions up to that point.  The fact that he had to use trickery and deceit to get what he wanted absolutely fell in line with the expectations of that character up to that point.  To me, it looks much more like a player slipping back into bad gaming habits where the old ADnD skill of Bend Bars/Lift Gates was the default solution to most problems. 

I'm not sure I would be too quick to change this feature of your game.  It seems to be reinforcing the very kinds of storytelling techniques the players initially wanted to employ.  And sometimes, that's what a system does- it helps to consistenly enforce the vision of play even when the players find the system inconvenient or simply forget that it was there.

Peace,

-Troy
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Cliff H
Member

Posts: 49


« Reply #5 on: January 06, 2011, 12:21:43 PM »

I'm not sure I would be too quick to change this feature of your game.  It seems to be reinforcing the very kinds of storytelling techniques the players initially wanted to employ.  And sometimes, that's what a system does- it helps to consistenly enforce the vision of play even when the players find the system inconvenient or simply forget that it was there.

Interesting way of looking at it. I've been hit with "the system should never get in the way" so much that I never gave any thought to the possibility that enforcing existing tone, character, etc., isn't getting in the way at all. At the very least, the feature could use more testing before it gets hacked at all.

In reflection though, one thing I am pretty decided on changing is the way editorial control is awarded to players. Instead of a single roll resulting in a hierarchy down which the pen passes in order, I think rolling at the beginning of each arc would work better, with a cumulative penalty applied to each player who has already won control of an arc, probably -2 per arc won.

The goal is to increase the competitive feel of this aspect of the game, and to increase the stakes of saga declaration. If there are only x number of arcs you can assign to sagas and there will always be more players than available saga arcs, there's incentive to declare for yourself. But if you do, you're going to have a harder time winning control at the same time. Rolling multiple times serves to bring that tension back at the head of each arc, instead experiencing it  once and riding the same results for the rest of the game. That's the theory anyway.
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Cliff H
Member

Posts: 49


« Reply #6 on: January 06, 2011, 04:28:00 PM »

Ron, thank you very much for the analysis of my work. As requested, I'm responding to issues you bring up that are related to the playtest in some way in this thread. As you surmised, much of what you noted was in fact an issue in our trial run.

Quote
What I’m saying is that since text does state that the whole range is available, the game process desperately needs a “talk it over” step and maybe even a procedure which gets everyone into the same zone. And again, it’s not just about the swords but about the whole culture in question, unless you want a crazy mash-up of whatever ethnic groups, sword designs, technologies, and magical whatnots.

I'm sure it's not going to blow your mind to hear that in decades of gaming, the only time I've ever had a group with a solid creative agenda was when we wound up agreeing to the same one independently. It's simply not something that ever occurred to me to specifically delineate, ergo the absence of anything like that here. Seems like a small bit of text would be all that's needed to put that right though.

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If you want this game to be only about the legends of swords accumulating due to their Awsumm Powerz, then I think you’re losing a lot of potential for a way to play the game which could be attractive, and which could easily be achieved simply by highlighting a step during preparation. “This was the age when the Welsh resistance flared up most, before it was overwhelmed.”

And on a less important point but relevant for present purposes, this element must be at least available for the use of the term “old” to be meaningful, which is a Ronnies criterion.

When I first started jotting down ideas for this game, all swords were dynastic, and much of the advancement was through shaping the family to which you were attached. I had ideas of all sorts of bells and whistles eventually available that would represent cultural details that you as the sword caused to happen through your influence on the line down through the ages. Then I realized that I only had 24 hours to get this done, and that there were strong legendary references to swords not tied to specific family lines that someone would want to use as inspiration eventually. Which is where you get the Method of Passing instead. The attributes associated with them are an attempt to show the blades have some impact on the world, but I'll admit, it's a tenuous link at best.

Sagas and the fact that hands change every quest were attempts to get that age and passage of time idea across. Playtesting showed that this isn't particularly compelling your first time out, but it did suggest (only suggest) that it might demonstrate that span of time once you engage in multiple sessions. Only further, repeated play with the same characters as well as players will tell for sure.

But to the idea you express above, are you saying that establishing an overarching theme of the age in which the current quest takes place would be an effective method of establishing this cultural influence, perhaps modified at the beginning of each new quest? Or am I totally misunderstanding that?

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All of the above also ties into my confusion about the role of multiple player-characters in this game. I see a big distinction between (i) adding to and elaborating upon a single sword’s history and (ii)documenting clashes and/or alliances between two or more super-swords.

The idea was very much the latter, with a heavy emphasis on alliances, though not entirely easy ones. The thought I had in mind was something akin to an all star team, or maybe even a group of guys who are all lead singers in their own band that come together. There's a pressing external need that must be addressed (the ultimate goal of the quest), but there's also the grab for the glory and historical record that cannot be shared. So they work together to do what must be done, but still compete among each other (through the use of the Bard score) to ensure theirs is the name written next to that event.

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The text’s examples show both. In one, two swords are pitted against one another concerning the crown, and in the other, the same two swords act as allies in destroying the necromancers.

I apologize. I swear I used different names in those two examples. The crown competition was to be between Above and Hunger, while the necromantic example should have included Above and Soulsear. And really, I always envisioned Hunger as something of an NPC blade, though that's never stated, which of course contributes to the conclusion.

The point is that the game is supposed to have an element of competition to it, but only in the details. In the big picture, these swords routinely come together for a common goal.

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I wouldn’t necessarily be too concerned about this issue except that it ties directly into the bigger question of what the GM actually does. As written, that role is mentioned only in terms of setting Threat ratings, i.e., already buried deep in the middle of the action.

This was something that I discovered in the playtest. With player-generated storylines and the dice giving out authorial authority, there really doesn't seem to be much for the GM to do. However, it doesn't run well without a GM figure at the helm. It's theoretically possible to run with everyone in the role of player if everyone's also willing to take some share of the GM duty too, but that's a big stretch.

What the playtest established in terms of the GM's duty is this: provide all the details that the players do not have the narration points to dictate. Thus the GM has unlimited numbers of narration points (except in opposed rolls, in which case the dice tell you how many details you can specify), and fills in whatever information is necessary to facilitate continued gameplay. This also necessitated tightening and clarifying the rules as to what narration points can do, which you also pointed out was lacking.

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But I am really hitting a wall in understanding what narration points can do, in terms of Color vs. Consequence. Going by the examples, a lot of the points are used for minor ongoing details like “But he’s knocked down,” “But I get up,” and yet they also get used for conflict-resolving clinchers like “I grab the crown.”

Perhaps I can illustrate what I mean by saying that, as I understand the rules, if you narrate that I’m knocked down, then I can counter-narrate that I get back up, but if you narrate that you grab the crown, I cannot narrate that I grab it back. How do we know which is which? How much messing with you grabbing the crown am I allowed to do?

Where I was when writing this and where I was at the end of the first playtest changed. There was a lot of confusion as to how much a narration point could do in the players' hands, and for obvious reasons we needed to work that out fast. What we ultimately settled on, and what seemed to work well, was that a narration point could describe one action and one detail. More specifically, that narration point could describe one detail that was a consequence of your own action.

People were fine declaring actions with their narration points. That part's just like making a declaration in most RPGs. "I attack him." Roll dice to see if you hit. What we wound up doing was saying a narration point was good for describing your action ("I attack him") and a resulting reaction to that ("He takes the blade through the heart and dies").

In fact one of the players latched onto this early and made great use of it. He had infiltrated a guard house and got attacked. He used a defensive narration point to dodge the blow, and then since it was his turn, used an attack narration point to declare the thrust instead took out a guard standing behind him.

In your example, "I grab the crown" would be the action. If you don't feel like attributing some kind of consequence to it, you don't have to. We found that sometimes the players were fine just accomplishing their one action, no flare needed. I didn't make the extra mandatory, but it was available if people wanted it. The next person could say they take it from you, if they're in a position to do so, i.e. you're within reach. If you're across the room, they'd need to spend a narration point describing how they close the distance, or bring you to them, or something similar. And yes, the text was woefully unclear about that. This was something only playtesting revealed. I'm sure it could use further revision, but getting the rules clear to that point at least allowed us to play the game without having to make a judgement call outside of the rules for every single declaration.

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For a mild example, let’s say the conflict is about who gets the crown, and you narrate that you grab it, but I narrate that that isn’t the real crown but a clever fake. Was that the kind of narration you want to see in play?

This was mostly resolved when we decided that your narration point only bought you rights to author consequences of actions you took. Now, there were a few times when my players added details to a scene that I didn't put there, but we've always played that way for no other reason than we prefer it. So they did do this, but it wasn't implicit in the rules so much as the tenor of every game we play. In general, that kind of power isn't what I intended to give away with this mechanic.

I hope this didn't come off sounding like I already had an answer to all your criticisms, as that was certainly not the intent. It does seem you and I both noticed many of the same deficiencies of design, and I happened to luck into an opportunity to give the game a dry run recently that accentuated those problems, and forced at least a jury-rig solution to many of them, ergo the number of my answers. I am, however, most interested in hearing your thoughts further, and I thank you again for taking the time to share them. What you've already shared has been tremendously valuable.
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Cliff H
Member

Posts: 49


« Reply #7 on: January 11, 2011, 02:23:21 PM »

I've been giving the idea that the blades need to be culturally significant in order for the game to be something more than an accumulation of powers, no matter how dressed up that concept may be, and what I keep leaning toward is a way to spend rewards on shaping the next era. Right now, players compete to grab pieces of the emerging stories to claim as part of their own growing sagas, and it is through their sagas that their power increases. The alternative I'm considering is putting those advances toward altering the game setting, with the state of the setting somehow converging with the swords' abilities. Thus sword A gets a bonus if the setting is in X shape.

It's all very nebulous, and I'm not sure if this is something that would be in addition to building your sword's saga, or a complete replacement of those rules. It does make the actions of the swords more important to the world beyond their scabbards, though it seems a detail that could be easily ignored by groups (perhaps that modularity is a good thing though).

This is nothing more than an idea right now. Does anyone out there know of games that do something similar, i.e. give the players direct mechanical tools that give them editorial authority over the setting? I'm curious to see some of the different ways this has been addressed.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: January 17, 2011, 06:58:38 PM »

Hi Cliff,

You wrote,

Quote
The thought I had in mind was something akin to an all star team, or maybe even a group of guys who are all lead singers in their own band that come together. There's a pressing external need that must be addressed (the ultimate goal of the quest), but there's also the grab for the glory and historical record that cannot be shared. So they work together to do what must be done, but still compete among each other (through the use of the Bard score) to ensure theirs is the name written next to that event.

That is a valuable, clarifying comment - raw CA! - and should be one of the first things in your game text when you get to the point of writing it as instructions and inspiration.

Given that statement, from a design perspective, I think your next thing to consider is difficulty. For what you describe to be fun, the chance of failure, perhaps up to and including the destruction of a sword, should be real. I'm saying that the need to struggle vs. the common adversity should be a powerful feature, enough to put some edge into the competition. Sort of the same as some pro basketball, where player-vs.-player competition for most points per player (on the same team for purposes of my point) is sometimes at odds with defeating the other team.

I don't want to distract your own process and priorities with my gabble about history and changing the setting, or establishing a setting that's changing. Those comments were made before your clarifying statement I quoted above. In that context, I suggest that this issue is minor - a fun option, rather than a crucial framework.

The game to check out regarding changing the setting through heroic, even mythic action, is HeroQuest. It's pretty heavy mystical stuff, though. As a less intense or central issue, I suggest that in your game, perhaps narration points might be spent at a high exchange rate to bring about setting-level changes. Maybe like 5 narration points to destroy the circle of necromancers for good, over and above simply killing the current members; or to explode the Ebon Citadel; or to establish a new religion or dynasty, whatever, that sort of thing. I don't know if it makes sense to be able to do that stuff right out of the blue, or whether normal narration points have to be spent "in that direction" first; also perhaps this is something you can do toward the end of a scenario but not right from the beginning.

Best, Ron
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Cliff H
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Posts: 49


« Reply #9 on: January 18, 2011, 09:22:32 AM »

Given that statement, from a design perspective, I think your next thing to consider is difficulty. For what you describe to be fun, the chance of failure, perhaps up to and including the destruction of a sword, should be real. I'm saying that the need to struggle vs. the common adversity should be a powerful feature, enough to put some edge into the competition. Sort of the same as some pro basketball, where player-vs.-player competition for most points per player (on the same team for purposes of my point) is sometimes at odds with defeating the other team.

I don't want to distract your own process and priorities with my gabble about history and changing the setting, or establishing a setting that's changing. Those comments were made before your clarifying statement I quoted above. In that context, I suggest that this issue is minor - a fun option, rather than a crucial framework.

Actually, what I've been working on addresses both. It's still very rough and not at all playable, but I'm hoping to hammer it into shape soon. I added some text about establishing setting and boundaries so that people all make thematically appropriate characters, but wound up making that into a mechanical exercise as well. Once you work out the necessary details free form, you assign metics to the world in a fashion vaguely similar to what Mayfair's Underground did. Except in this case the players themselves create the category of metric based on the world they created. So, for example, if they created a religion as a cultural force in the world, they'd also assign it a rating to establish the bredth of its influence. The same goes for kingdoms and cultures.

Where this intersects with the swords is that as part of character creation, you define the cultural conditions under which the sword thrives, assigning it some categories and ratings. These ratings do not have to match the campaign's, and probably shouldn't. Nor do you need to account for all the atings of the campaign. Your sword, for example, may not have any concern about which religion dominates the world as long as a paricular nation is dominant. 

These ratings can be high or low, defining what the sword's both for and against. So a sword that ranks a particular religion at 0 is dedicated to the eradication of that faith, for example.

For every campaign rating that matches a sword's personal rating, increase the score of each of the sword's powers by 1. However, the sum differnce between the sword's cultural ratings and the campain's ratings becomes the sword's Obscurity score. If that score climbs too high (I'm thinking above 10 right now, but I need to firm everything up before knowing what a workable number range is), the sword falls from the annals of history and is forgotten, effectively dyng.

Swords can expend their sagas, which is their pimary source of personal power, in order to influence the campaign's scores, but the blade that completes the ultimate goal of a generational quest gets 1 point with which it can change the campaign settings without any personal cost. It's something of a narration point usable only in the postlude. This is to create that struggle between players to be the one who gets the final action/blow/whatever in and create that sense of unhealthy competition at the end. I only put it in at the end, as opposed to each quest arc, so that the entire game isn't dominated by scheming and fighting (I had a few too many ugly Vampire games in college that went that way).

I'll create a living document and post a link to it soon, but I want to buff up the new content so that it's more than just a word sketch before doing so. Still, I mention it here now because it sounds like amethod of dealing with both the issues you raised and thus relefvent to the discussion.

Quote
The game to check out regarding changing the setting through heroic, even mythic action, is HeroQuest. It's pretty heavy mystical stuff, though.

Thanks for the recommendation. It does sound a little higher-end than what I've currently got in mind, but interesting nonethelss. Certainly worth a read at some point.
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RichD
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« Reply #10 on: January 18, 2011, 11:27:34 AM »

Hi Cliff,

Reading about the cooperative yet competitive nature of the sword's interactions made me wonder if you were familiar with the game Agon.  The premise is Greek heroes and demigods off on quests where the goal is not only to succeed in the quest but to obtain more Glory than your fellows while you are doing it.  A similar mechanism might be useful in your game especially when it comes to the endgame.  I found it odd that who gets first dibs on defining details at the end of a quest was down to a roll against the static Bard score.  Surely the actions of the swords during the quest should have a bearing on which is best remembered and for what.
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Cliff H
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Posts: 49


« Reply #11 on: January 18, 2011, 02:10:28 PM »

Reading about the cooperative yet competitive nature of the sword's interactions made me wonder if you were familiar with the game Agon. 

Never heard of it, but it's on the wish list now and I spent some time digging up any review I could find. You're 100% right, the concept is great and it works the quest for glory into the play of the game far more than what I was tinkering with. Fantastic recomendation. Thank you!
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Cliff H
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Posts: 49


« Reply #12 on: January 20, 2011, 07:19:18 AM »

As promised, I've posted a work in progress document that contains all the changes made to the game so far. This puts everything in one spot, instead of having to start with the original document and then get all the updates through numerous posts. I'll continue to publish updates as they come to the same spot, so this link should get you the newest version every time.

You can find the game here: www.mindgangster.com/~shadowitz/Keen Edge of History.pdf

A quick rundown of changes:
  • Added campaign world creation to both put everyone on the same page and to add a cultural shift mechanic to the game
  • Swords now add glory to quests through a "mugging for the camera" sort of option that they can take in lieu of being more effective
  • Glory added to quests becomes a resource over which swords compete at the end of each quest arc
  • Each quest ends with an epilogue, which is a final round of narration in which players use glory to change the campaign's metrics
  • Swords now gain power the closer their ideals match the campaign, and risk falling into obscurity or even destruction if the disparity between the two becomes too great
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Altaem
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Posts: 64


« Reply #13 on: January 25, 2011, 06:50:49 AM »

Great write up for your play report, and a interesting concept for a game.

First thing that occurs to me: It's called "Keen Edge of History" (A very cool name) and all the rules refer to the player characters as swords.  However I see nothing in the rules that requires them to to be a blade or indeed a weapon at all.  This appears to be a game about legendary items and the way they shape history.  As such any durable item should serve, be it helmet, shield, wand or talisman.  The possibilities are endless.

Probably just me being difficult.  I'll have another read through the rules and try to post something more constructive in the near future.
I have thoughts on the goals and mechanics, but they can wait until I'm more awake.
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"Damn! I should have turned invisible." - Stephen Moore aka Altaem
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Devon Oratz
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Posts: 75


« Reply #14 on: January 25, 2011, 12:03:35 PM »

I just wanted to say that I love the concept of this game. I skimmed through the rules (I wish I had time to read them more closely, but alas I don't). I suppose the aspect that interested me most is the relationship between the "hand" and the Sword, and the question of who is really in control. I'd love to see that kind of adversarial relationship or conflict explored more.
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