[Skull Full of Bong Hits] Ronnies feedback

Started by Ron Edwards, January 08, 2011, 11:19:01 PM

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Ron Edwards

Nick Aubergine's Skull Full of Bong Hits: The Necromancer's Curse is so great that I can only say, laughing almost too hard to talk, "Read it!" and point. It's yet another reason the Runners-Up category is especially agonzing this round. But it's not only funny and light-hearted, but also brutally insightful, a deep look at the past and a deep look at the future.

One might think at first that this is the "just say no" RPG, about how habitual pot smoking diminishes your ambitions and turns you into an empty-headed loser whose dreams of accomplishments have frittered away in fantasizing about Roger Dean album covers. I don't think that's what's going on with it. I think it's about fantasy and life for sure, but has much more to say about role-playing and arcane geek hobbies, regarding whether they dampen and diminish not only one's ambitions, but also one's engagement with the problems of the world around us. That Singularity rule is crucial - without making pretentious fanfare, but with ruthless precision, the players are seized and confronted implacably with the question, "And what are you doing about it?" I stress, the players - it's too late for the characters.

The reason it doesn't get a Ronny is pervasive vagueness that forces me to interpret rules to the point of inventing them.

A minor example is the distinction between Ambition vs. Accomplishment, because I'm pretty sure that the terms got mixed up in various places throughout. My interpretation is that the Ambitions, and hence the Ambition "deck" (if four or five cards can be called a deck), are what you write in the beginning of the game as part of character creation. Let's say you keep them at your left, to reference freely during play in the characters' real world, but face down during their awesome excursions into the fantasy world. The Accomplishments are written on the backs of Ambition cards, while they're still face down, during the course of the awesome adventures. Upon doing so, you move them to your right. There they will stay, their Ambition content forever removed from play. There's no Accomplishment deck in the sense of drawing from it; it's merely an array of cards on the table.

Let me know if I have that right, Nick, because that's what we did during play.

Another minor example is the absence of Table A. Now mind you, I happen not to think I need a Table A for this game, and I suppose if Table A turns out to be superfluous for most or all people who play, then it's correctable with a quick red-pen slash. But as a submission, it's hard to know what to do with a table that is either presumably needed but absent, or unneeded but still mentioned.

Now for the stuff that I think needs work, but perhaps not in the sense one might expect at first. Regarding the in-gamefantasy-world actions, I think you absolutely do not need any more resolution mechanics than what you already have (about which, more in a moment). I'm saying that informal nigh-free dialogue is indeed the way to go for the default way to establish what happens.

For such dialogue to work, rules do need to be constructed, but they are best built simply by sharing your own vision of how this goes. Imagine a bunch of people playing the game. Does everyone have equal authority? Does every character get equal spotlight time? Does everyone have equal speaking time? When you have a good idea for elaborating upon what someone just said, perhaps even changing some of it, can you say it? Does the first person get the final call on whether that holds?

As I said above, the dice mechanic is just fine the way it is - but the circumstances of rolling are totally not clear, and they have to be. Exactly what do you mean by an impasse? Must there be a conflict of interest among charactersm in the fiction? If so, can it apply to PCs vs NPCs, or among PCs only? Or if that's totally off-base and if no such conflict of interest is involved, so we're talking strictly about what you think happens and what I think happens, then what would such an impasse be about? When is it an impasse and when is it one person saying X, another person saying "not X, Y," and the first person sticking with X? In which case, shouldn't authority rules solve that problem so there's no impasse?

Oh, and with that in mind, who is "you" in terms of rolling? If you and I are at an impasse, who gets to roll? Because 7 and higher isn't 50%, and I'm going to want you to roll, so there's a 60-40 split in my favor.

Answer me all that, develop what you need to answer it through playtesting if necessary, and you have the makings of a truly fine game here. I can flatly say I have seen nothing like it before.

This game gets the distinction of being the first current Ronnies game that I playtested. All of the above comments are taken from my notes before playing it, and which formed the basis for my judgment. I'll start a Game Development thread for the playtesting discussion.

Best, Ron

Nick Aubergine

Thank you for taking the time to review my entry, Mr. Edwards.

I think I'm experiencing something like post-partum depression. ALREADY, I'm going back over what I wrote and seeing like a dozen horrible little flaws. But, I know for damn sure without the crazy time constraint this thing would never have seen the light of day, so I guess I'll have to love this eight-fingered bastard like one of my own.

So... holy crap? You've already playtested it?! Holy crap! That's like the highest compliment I could get, I think.

Ack, yes, the terms got a little screwed up between Ambitions/Accomplishments. Yes, I think you understand it exactly right. The idea of the "deck" (maybe a crappy term?) is that one of the Ambitions gets consumed at random, and which Ambition it was won't be noticed until a later point.

Number of cards and number of years elapsed per "trip" are both pretty arbitrary choices. I think they need to be tweaked through playtesting.

The notorious Table A was supposed to provide some color/scope for what I figured bad ass uber-wizards do. It turns out populating one of those random entry tables with solidly good stuff is kind of time consuming. It was going to be one of several tables in an appendix. Like Table B, which was going to be a list of wry observations about facets of life that had changed in fucked up future world. Totally not necessary if you have a well-fed imagination, maybe just fleshing out for that one guy at the table who didn't quite "get" the concept at the initial pitch.

(The Roger Dean album covers thing is 100% the right vibe, although I'm not really sure what the PEOPLE in those do. Hey, maybe if I can brainstorm a dozen answers to that question, I'll have my Table A.)

The procedural details for narration are, oh, surely way undeveloped, without doubt. Working through all the potential scenarios for how the people at the table are going to bang into each other is something I'm pretty sure would have taken me way, way outside the time budget. Let's see...

I guess I'm shooting for the most vanilla narration mechanics possible. I guess I'm kind of at the point where I understand the point of the rules to be, "You do all that stuff that people do when they're telling stories, AND THEN we add some special procedures to make it even better and more collaborative" and people are like, "Okay, but what are the RULES for telling a story?" and I just kind of get frustrated and throw up my hands at the whole thing. So, mostly, I'm trying to emphasize "No, seriously, you are first and foremost telling a story." Learning THAT is beyond the scope of a set of RPG rules. (NOT that I am dismissing your line of questions.)

I'm not particularly wedded to 2d6, I'm considering making it a flat roll or using some other randomizer. I DID have the general notion when I was writing, though, that the 58.3% success rate would go in favor of the initially posited notion, with the 41.7% going to "nah, that shouldn't happen."

Mostly, I'd like the process for what narrations become fact and what don't to rely heavily on normal social cues for judging how people you're hanging out with are enjoying themselves. Yeah, I know, this is probably naively idealistic in the face of a whole lot of game design effort. But like, if your narration seems to actually piss off someone at the table, you could be like "huh, really? well what do you think would be better?"  Do I need to spell out the social consequences of routinely trying to game THAT system? (Hah. Of course I do. That's a pretty funny insight about human beings, right there.)

The dice are kind of a concession, arbitrarily putting the authority in the hand of fate, when a situation is deemed not fun to fight about any more. (Whose fun? Some people actually enjoy fighting more than others.)

I'm making up, right now, some kind of notion about a gnomon or "the conch" which bestows narrative authority and/or spotlight. That doohickey from Jungle Speed would be perfect. Ambiguity about how to GET the conch would be part of the fun. (Or misery?)

Is "Try to be copacetic about this, dudes," adequate advice? That seems in line with the stoner color, maybe not so much so for supremely powerful wizards.

Crap, that got all weird and ranty. But really, I don't know how to shore this up without cluttering it up with reflexive, familiar, "that's what in RPGs" stuff. The constructive prodding is appreciated.

Rock on,

Paul Czege

Hey man,

For what it's worth, the right artist for this thing, should you choose to go in that direction, is a guy named skinner, who does stuff like this, and like this, for Mondo Tees in Austin, Texas.

"[My Life with Master] is anything but a safe game to have designed. It has balls, and then some. It is as bold, as fresh, and as incisive  now as it was when it came out." -- Gregor Hutton

Nick Aubergine

Mr. Czege, those are bitchin'. If I develop this to a point where I can pay an artist to do some stuff, I will keep him in mind. Heck, merely browsing the guy's web site was pretty enjoyable.

Ron Edwards

My take on the in-awesome-scene mechanics issue is that "roll when we disagree" is a poor cue. I do not consider genuine disagreement about what's supposed to happen to be a healthy context for resolution in games; in fact, if such a disagreement occurs, such resolution is guaranteed to piss one person off. I.e., it won't resolve the disagreement, merely slaps one side in the face.

Another way of looking at it is that we don't roll to resolve disagreement, but because we've agreed to let the roll do some of the job, up to and including negative consequences for one's own "piece" of play.

I suggest the issue is not how many dice or what percentages may be involved. I think your initial desire to keep it bog-simple and also to slightly favor the initial proposal are perfectly sound. I think the issue concerns the cue to roll - getting it out of the realm of disagreement among persons (i.e. already-broken play) and into the realm of fictional circumstances.

Best, Ron