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Author Topic: [Diary of a Skull Soldier] Ronnies feedback  (Read 2457 times)
Ron Edwards
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« on: January 07, 2011, 08:24:56 AM »

The premise of Callan Sweet’s Diary of a Skull Soldier and its use of terms are brilliant. This is the Gene Wolfe RPG, including politics right there and right on target. It is also, I think, the Pat Tillman RPG.

The basic play structure is great, I get it and I like it. A diary entry is read, a GM elaborates because "they always do," people try to do stuff, roll dice, succeed or fail, and after about ten rolls total, the scene is closed. You read another diary entry, repeat. Then you stop. Play goes for about half and hour, and like the drink mentioned in the text, is not actually over when it seems to be. I love the ending. Given that play is stopped, if you want to read the entry that wasn't used, then the game moved you beyond itself, and into a mind-set that is looking outward, here and now in a time when gamers, and the geek culture in general, are unforgivably doing precisely the opposite. This ties into my ongoing frustration with modern science fiction and fantasy, which is a little bit out of the scope of the Forge. Suffice to say that I love the ending.

I don’t mind the verbal jabs in the text either because they actually clarify my reading of the rules. I totally agree with the bits about explaining character creation prior to resolution, and similar stuff. In order to make sure I’m understanding properly, I’ll try to paraphrase the peaches paragraph: “You can try to do whatever you announce, and there will be no debates about whether you can or cannot.” Is that fair?

My main difficulty lies in how play is coordinated among all the participants, relative to the diary entry for a given sequence of play. There's a GM and more than one other player, right? Is one diary entry acted upon by more than one person, as implied by the “ten rolls from everyone” transition rule? Does the next reading of the diary hop to a different player-character, in which case we have two diaries to consider fictionally, rather than one? Or is one player-character showcased as the diary writer throughout?

This seems like more than a minor detail to me because on the one hand, I value the diary-concept and think it's strongest if there's only one diary (and hence writer); and yet on the other, the situations being experienced and acted upon are brought forward most by having several soldiers present. (God those entries are good.) So I'm not seeing an easy way to resolve this by referencing the rest of the text.

Now for the Marks – and my notes say, "well, wait a minute. There is such a thing as too PoMo." The players get to write on their sheets based on the failed rolls, with no integration with the spoken fiction, with no consequences or whatever at all. It's there to "make you wonder what it's there for." OK, I see the parody, but as judge, my interest is in usable game mechanics, not in ironic commentary on expectations. I fully admit that the commentary is good. You get a 7/10 or a 3/10, and yeah, 7 and 3 add up to 10, so one of each gets you 10/10. A lot of 3's won't do that, but only three 7's get you up to 21/10, i.e. over 2. Numerically, the implication that something must be there is very strong. If you're being all ironical about this, then you've achieved it - the structure does make me wonder what it's for. My call is that yanking the rug out and saying "See? Nothing's there!" is no insight at all, which is why I think most modern Ph.D.'s in English are worthless. I'm unreconstructed old-school: to me, stories are good, or they suck. Or for present purposes, game mechanics do things, or they suck.

I did not enjoy making my final decision about the Ronny or not. I think this is an important game. I'd really like to see it beaten into shape, with no loss of attitude and certainly with no effort made for it to be a "real RPG" in the ordinary textual-expectations sense of that phrase. I don't know what it would look like, but I'd like to find out.

Best, Ron
edited to finish a sentence fragment
« Last Edit: January 07, 2011, 08:28:30 AM by Ron Edwards » Logged
Callan S.
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« Reply #1 on: January 08, 2011, 04:24:48 AM »

Hi Ron, thanks for reading through it.

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I don’t mind the verbal jabs in the text either because they actually clarify my reading of the rules. I totally agree with the bits about explaining character creation prior to resolution, and similar stuff. In order to make sure I’m understanding properly, I’ll try to paraphrase the peaches paragraph: “You can try to do whatever you announce, and there will be no debates about whether you can or cannot.” Is that fair?

First I'll lay the boot into my own work - where do these rolls come from? Does anyone just grab up the dice? Does a GM decide? Does he have to decide in commitee with all the players whether you get a roll?

I went for the, as I see it, gamer cultural standard that a GM calls this. I shoulda written that in.

Now that said - and this is how I measure most traditional RPG's work. What you do is you make noises. Preferably noises that sound like words. This may or may not incite the GM to give you a roll. Certainly not making any noises wont get a roll.

I kinda get what your saying in your rephrase about no debates, but I wouldn't think it's needed. The GM can just decide you don't get a roll. He doesn't need to debate. I mean the buck stops there (well, it would be more clear if I had written that it does!). But then I'm getting faint memories from accounts here - do people try and argue someone out of 'doing something', rather than just using the powers that god *cough* the author gave them to say no? They'll ignore their rule granted powers and keep it all at some social level? My memories twitching again and saying yeah. Just talking aloud, if it's of use. Anyway, to me, the rules knife right through anything like that - say anything. Worst that can happen is you get a rules empowered no.

So, make noises (polite ones), and maybe you'll get a roll. Worth a shot.

Oh, speaking of: And this may be a bit of a spoiler.

Notice that there is no success entry on the percentile roll?

This is a little evil add on. Above and below I've refered to gamer cultural habits. One is that you might think that if you didn't fail, you suceeded.

Except it isn't listed as that. So, having pulled the carpet out from under, what (fictionally) did you do? It's lost all sense of up or down, right or wrong. Just doing things. Stripped of rightious direction. No golden path of success/the right thing to do.

That or I just didn't put in success and it's not that complicated. >:)

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My main difficulty lies in how play is coordinated among all the participants, relative to the diary entry for a given sequence of play. There's a GM and more than one other player, right? Is one diary entry acted upon by more than one person, as implied by the “ten rolls from everyone” transition rule? Does the next reading of the diary hop to a different player-character, in which case we have two diaries to consider fictionally, rather than one? Or is one player-character showcased as the diary writer throughout?
C'mon, man! Your in the dungeon together! Aint no clever second dungeon!

You've got a point, but those other options are more clever than what's going on (I mean clever as in genuinely interesting alternate takes).

Again I've gravitated to what probably is a common pattern in gaming culture. Your all there. In your skull suits or whatever you/they call them. The next diary entry is another day, and your all deployed there too.

I hadn't actually thought of any of the players AS the skull soldier who wrote the diary. Though it seems an interesting missreading, worth pursuit and not against any rule. But I hadn't thought of it that way - that's why the marks are significant. Because you aren't the diary writer, but you are likely becoming like him in the concerns you carry. Importantly, your PC is becoming like him in a way that you as a player think is like the diary writer. In doing it that way, instead of telling the players outright some concerns, I'm letting them formulate something on the matter themselves. That might stick more for not being fed to them. Might become their mark.

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Now for the Marks
Ooops, got onto the marks above, out of sequence.

Parody? That's a surprise angle? I'm assuming you've only read it over (fair enough, btw). But if you've played, you might have some marks on your sheet, matching with events (that aren't pleasant or PC). How I imagine it is that the person goes 'Huh? I'm supposed to wonder what this mark means' and they look at the marks. And what are they? Well, what are any hurts from any character from any book or from any movie? What ARE they? Why do they matter at all? Why do we give a shit? Why did the author of this game give a shit about putting them in?

Rather than parody, there are no real answers to the above - so all they can do is make you wonder. There is no satisfactory reason to have those characters with hurts, in movies or in my game. So I didn't supply one. I'm wondering too, if it helps.

But I get that it could just seem the author parodying gamer culture or such. Hmmm, not sure what to do about that?

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The players get to write on their sheets based on the failed rolls, with no integration with the spoken fiction, with no consequences or whatever at all.
No consequences? Like, your PC is getting, potentially, post traumatic stress disorders and it's not a consequence? I'll grant there is no further mechanical effect. But to me that'd mean making the game longer simply to have a mechanical effect occur. And also this is what you end up with - in D&D maybe you get a castle on a cloud at the end - here you get some marks and/or PSD. Those are the prizes you get to take away with you.

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I fully admit that the commentary is good. You get a 7/10 or a 3/10, and yeah, 7 and 3 add up to 10, so one of each gets you 10/10. A lot of 3's won't do that, but only three 7's get you up to 21/10, i.e. over 2.
??

Add up?

It's supposed to give an idea of strength of the mark, instead of it's strength utterly dictated by whatever text the players write down. I'd have to outline that more - 10 is the strongest, 1 the weakest. So a 3 is...well, whatever comes to mind. But a seven is four higher than that. Once you draw a line in the sand for one, the other starts to clarify.

Adding??? *baffled* Anyway, just to be clear the marks are all seperate. Each is it's own seperate mark. You'd probably end up with a few, if your character actually tries to engage the world (rather than just pass time working/follow orders)

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My call is that yanking the rug out and saying "See? Nothing's there!"
I did that with the success thing, remember? Not with marks :) And I used the carpet pull analogy without even reading this far...oh dear. I still like the success assumption rug pull though. "I thought I suceeded...okay, what the fuck did I do?". But now I'm just mixing up the two topics.


Also, as a reference I watched this video a while back and it's part of what I pulled on in writing the entries. I think, anyway: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tn80Z36jops

Actually that reminds me I'll just note that it was just satisfying to describe stuff through an attitude. Instead of clinically saying there's a hill over there, and tree's over there, and all that which is the method often used in RPG's to describe a game world and then trying to get sentiment to attach to all that. Instead I get to spit bile/sentiment, then you can attach some physical game world to that after. I'm reminded by that video, because I think of that guy and a world starts to form from his attitude.

Thanks for the write up! Still not sure what to do about the apparent parody thing. Though I get that it could look like that.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: January 08, 2011, 05:58:56 AM »

Hi Callan,

What I intended with "parody" is synonymous with your phrasings:

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How I imagine it is that the person goes 'Huh? I'm supposed to wonder what this mark means' and they look at the marks. And what are they? Well, what are any hurts from any character from any book or from any movie? What ARE they? Why do they matter at all? Why do we give a shit? Why did the author of this game give a shit about putting them in?

I understand what you were doing with this. It's not a miscommunication.

More coming later; today's not going to be good for posting.

Best, Ron
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Callan S.
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« Reply #3 on: January 10, 2011, 02:32:57 PM »

In terms of the comp, it apparently read just as a parody and looking at it, I could see with a not unusual reading it could look a parody. I did not mean to be that obscure (and even if I did, that just gets in the way of the final product), so a judgement based on that seems perfectly valid to me. Good intentions don't count - it's what's actually physically there on the day, and what that conveys (via fairly average iconography) that matters.

However, in terms of further development: The word parody, as I understand it, involves the intent to make fun of something. I had no such intent. Perhaps it feels like it must be a parody, because it treats sacred ground as if it's not sacred and to do anything else but treat it as sacred must be parody? To develop a project further with someone elses input, I find, they have to tune into your intent to some degree. That's not going to happen when I'm being told my own intent, as if someone else knows it better than I do. If that makes me seem an alien at the dinner table, then I don't pretend otherwise. I'll be self indulgent and throw in a quote from a book I like
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"You would sound me. Make clear the riddle of the Scylvendi heart. But you use your own hearts to map mine.You see a man abased before you, Xunnurit. A man bound to me by kinship of blood. What an offense this must be, you say. His heart must cry for vengeance. And you say this because your heart would so cry. But my heart is not your heart. This is why it is a riddle to you."

But in terms of the judgement, judging what was there/what physical marks were left and what average meanings are associated with them, I totally think it's a judgement that matches what was presented. Thanks again for the write up, Ron. :)
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: January 17, 2011, 01:12:14 PM »

Callan, fuck that noise. I am tired of this patronizing "I'm so profoundly obscure to you" nonsense you've been pitching for years. I am wholly familiar with deconstructionist arguments. There is no failure to understand on my part; the fact is simply that I disagree with you and think that nearly that entire line of discourse is trash.

1. Your game design entry is awesome. I am going to continue to discuss it.

2. I am not going to play any more verbal games with you. In fact, here in this thread, I'm not even talking to you any more. What follows is for anyone else who's interested in my thoughts on your entry.

I'll get around to that when I'm less annoyed.

Best, Ron
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: January 20, 2011, 12:53:42 PM »

Let's talk about the Marks.

"They're there to make you wonder why they are there." Yeah, I get it, blah blah. But the fact is that this is a game design, and I consider it to be a good game design regardless of any claimed intentions by its author. And I don't mind that assessment being tagged as projection on my part, as long as it's projecting onto genuine text which is freaking present and can't be handwaved away.

Wondering why something is there, doing play, is not necessarily an inconsequential act which can only end in, "Look, I construct meaning out of things." (Duh. People get PhDs for talking about this?)

All right, so we're role-playing, and I'm playing my soldier guy in his skeletal-themed armor. I go ahead and narrate him doing something, and as per the rules, there is no dilly-dallying about whether he can, we just go with it. Note though, that Marks only apply when I have him do something about the world of the skull soldier, meaning what we know from the diary. That's text, also called rules, also called what I'm talking about here. Not some fucking made-up thing I invented to pretend it's there.

Let's say I have him do exactly something which qualifies.

I'll summarize the percentile rolls a little more carefully.

1. 1-70 fails. Within that, 61-70, nothing else. But if it's 1-60 then I get a 7/10 mark
71-100 succeeds. 91-100, nothing else. But 71-90 = 3/10 mark

What are Marks? What is that you are supposed to wonder about? It's not a blank slate. There are a hell of a lot of things specified about what they are to work with!

1. Your character has taken them on.
2. You name them.

Note that they are by definition worries, concerns, and perspectives of the diary-writing skull soldier, related to the area and what you're doing.

3. Cultural construction thinking can suck my big one. 1 over 1 equals 1, and "1" has a unique relationship to reality found in no other mathematical designator. Fractions of 7 over 10 and 3 over 10 are, relative to one another, relevant to that unique thing. If one gets three 3/10's, that's different from getting a 3/10 and a 7/10, and further, both of those are different from getting three 7/10's. What to do with it from there? By the rules, nothing. That's OK. What we have is enough.

And again, let's say that play is quiet for a minute or two, then OK, we move on to the next diary entry or close out play, whichever applies, and my character has taken on whatever Marks he got. Fine. But let's look at the other option, if it doesn't quiet down. In that case, we close out as naturally as possible after ten rolls or so.

Ten rolls! Each one with a 90% chance of gaining a Mark! Even if it's spread across several players with characters, that's a hell of a lot of Marking. A hell of a lot of worries. A hell of a lot of evocative naming. A serious amount of recorded information which by the rules, my character has taken on.

This makes me excited to play the second scene now. That is a reward mechanic in action. There is no "wondering" about that.

Best, Ron
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Callan S.
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« Reply #6 on: January 20, 2011, 04:35:39 PM »

I had my woman come and look at this thread before these the last three posts above, asking her opinion on the whole parody thing. She recoiled like I'd shown her a snake and bolted to the door "Some people just wont' understand" she said, hovering at the exit. I paused, internalised it a bit, and said "Well, they might...but yeah, your right, they might not in the end. And that'd be it"

I'll skip the profoundly obscure assertions, as it's slipped into a social level of speaker and listener (only).

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I disagree with you and think that nearly that entire line of discourse is trash.
Okay, now I'm getting you.

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A hell of a lot of worries. A hell of a lot of evocative naming. A serious amount of recorded information which by the rules, my character has taken on.

This makes me excited to play the second scene now. That is a reward mechanic in action. There is no "wondering" about that.
So what are you saying - that your interested in seeing how your marks perhaps affect your characters choices/actions in the next scene? As opposed to just wondering about them after the game?

I don't know. I think there have been books and movies which made me wonder about parts of them latter on. Years on, sometimes. And others which were popcorn and forgotten almost instantly on leaving. Wondering afterward, outside the activity, seems important over centuries of story media and useful in a practical sense. I can now see some potential reward mechanic going on, but I can't see how it's massively important relative to that wondering? If someone wondered about some mark in their game session with Diary years on, that seems to be both important and exactly what I wrote in the text? They wondered.

Indeed, if you can see it, couldn't some other guy see it as well? That's the idea of telling you to wonder - and you did. And you got where you got, which got to an area roughly where I intended, with some concern or emotional reflection on the marks (I'm not sure how to describe it). What, does it sound like being abandoned by the author and left to wander alone on the matter? I could pay that as a valid issue.

Or are we stuck in a 'I'm not talking to you' thing and that was all pointless to write out?

For anyone else reading, the whole 'Marks are there to wonder about' part might work just fine - it might not appear to work for drawing all attention to wondering about them and no attention on the fact that you are wondering about them. Though you see it in retrospect, of course.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #7 on: January 20, 2011, 05:07:30 PM »

Well phooey, I'm talking to you after all, I guess. Can't stay away.

Here are some points from earlier and just now that I think are cool.

1. Your comment about "writing from attitude." Fantastic. I've always liked that about independent games, and about the Ronnies in particular.

2. About the Marks, here's my take:

Quote
That's the idea of telling you to wonder - and you did. And you got where you got, which got to an area roughly where I intended, with some concern or emotional reflection on the marks (I'm not sure how to describe it).

As far as I can tell, I call that good game design. No, it's not being abandoned, it's being set on the right track. I think that I'm happy to rescind all comments about that part being unfinished. After going through it again like that - and even then, it was merely rehearsal, not real play - I see the payoff just as you describe it.

As for whether any local application of those numbers is more or less important than the wondering, I think the wondering is more important. Which I think means we agree.

Best, Ron
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