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Author Topic: [Keen Edge of History] Ronnies feedback  (Read 868 times)
Ron Edwards
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« on: January 06, 2011, 01:21:40 PM »

Clifford Horowitz’s Keen Edge of History: ah, the “play the weapons” game! An excellent, fun premise; much-promised from RPG designers but rarely seen, and it fits the terms immediately.

I claimed this entry needed “baking,” which means that all or most of the components seem well-chosen, but their interrelations need either refinement or reconsideration. By components, I’m referring to the parts of Exploration: character, setting, situation, system, and color. By interrelations, I’m referring both to techniques within system and how they affect other techniques, and also to, within Exploration, how all five components interact. (I just sketched this to help, I hope.)

For “mixing” Ronnies entries, my concern will mainly be about what the components actually are; for “baking” ones like this one, it will mainly be about refining and reconsidering what they do. Obviously the two categories overlap, but it turned out to be a useful distinction for me for this particular batch of disparate texts, and it may be helpful to the authors. I do not claim that this is some kind of fundamental, crucial distinction which must be debated for maximum rigor.

So! What’s up with this game?

The big picture
1. I think it needs a strong Color-first step, meaning getting everyone on the same page regarding the culture in question and the look-and-feel of swords. At present, going by examples, a particular image or range is identifiable, but the text states that that isn’t all the game is intended to do. Looking at non-gaming sword folklore, legendry, swords are visually and operationally “just swords,” like Excalibur. Looking at non-gaming fantasy fiction, sure, there’s Stormbringer (which is actually a little tame compared to the swords in the game examples), but most of them are like Tyrfing from Poul Anderson’s The Broken Sword: like Excalibur, chock-full of theme and context and suspiciously coincidental events, but visually and operationally just a sword.

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.

2. That leads directly into the next concern about setting. If this game is to be about the keen edge of history, then we’re talking about sweeps of time that include major societal changes, not merely the sword simply having adventures associated with it as an isolated phenomenon. Excalibur isn’t merely about Arthur – it’s about Welsh and Saxon history, intimately associated with geography, and interestingly twisted through the centuries into a reverse of itself to celebrate Norman-Saxon culture.

OK, two things to clarify. First, one doesn’t have to get all academic about it in order to say that a sword’s legend takes its power in part from the historical impact of the times that it was seen in action. Without that, its legend is limited to the sword’s Awsumm Powerz alone, as expressed in the cinematography of those aspects in use time after time. Second, I’m not talking about real history but about the sense that the fiction being produced is happening in terms of a history, wholly fictional or wholly actual or anything between.

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.

3. 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 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. For purposes of really clarifying what this game is about, which of these do you think is the primary function of the rules, and which is a sub-set or occasional possibility?

Procedural issues

Most of your system discussion focuses on the resolution of actions, which is of course a fine thing. However, I think the text needs some work concerning scenes for that action to happen in, and situations in which scenes occur. 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.

I like the hot potato option a lot, structurally. It suits the game well. 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?

That’s an important question all by itself, but now let’s add informational content as opposed to mere choreography. Going by the examples, narrations clearly can also contribute to both back-story and immediate features of a current situation.

This raises two issues. First, narration points give literally King Bob GM powers to the speaker (all four Authorities, if you want to use my jargon: Content, Situation, Narration & Plot!). Mildly speaking, such mechanics tend to work only for groups with extremely established habits that tacitly limit and distribute those Authorities. Hell, they only work in such groups even when the person with such powers is a central GM. In other works, such mechanics do not work well, regardless of most RPG texts saying or implying they should be used, and any functional group has to arrive at ways to limit them.

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? (I am not implying a correct answer. It might be. The point is that I need to know whether it is or isn’t.)

Second, how is the use of narration points related to whatever the GM’s back-story and scene-setting roles are supposed to be? Since the latter isn’t all that clear to me in the first place, I can’t take this question farther. But as soon as one of those two dials (narration points / GM jobs) is locked down a little, then I’d like to address it.

Cliff, let me know what you think!

Finally, the current playtest thread ([Keen Edge of History] First Time Play) highlights a lot of these issues, I think. I figure if anyone doesn’t understand what I’m saying at all, or wants to comment on anything independent of that playtest, then it should go into this thread. But if you do see a connection between that thread’s content and this one, or want to see how something there is discussed here, then we should talk about it in that thread using this link as reference.

Best, Ron
edited to fix thread link
« Last Edit: January 06, 2011, 02:17:02 PM by Ron Edwards » Logged
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