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Author Topic: [Demilich] Ronnies feedback  (Read 2262 times)
Ron Edwards
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« on: January 09, 2011, 03:39:42 PM »

Noam Rosen's Demilich is, with Diary of a Skull Soldier, one of the two current Ronnies entries I would most personally like to see developed into a published product. I don't know whether it'd stick with the standard playing cards and dice, or tweak them a bit for numerical and marketing purposes, but it sure would be sweet in a fancy little box with a card deck, including no-holds-barred illustrations.

It makes a great start – fun, funny, spot-on use of terms. This is the one in which I scribbled "had me at hello" in the margins. The writing is hilarious, even in this batch of entries, which is notable for good writing (I don't think I mentioned that yet). Character creation is a blast, although I am torn between the default fantasy-parody genre and the Fortune 500 idea.

My character for the latter is Vivian the Beautiful, a particularly damaged and worthless-looking skull, trapped by her own cult's devotion. Her ambition is clear, given that the perfect world remains to be built! Influence 3, Knowledge 2, Will 1. I get a hell of a draw, and the assets become:
Clout: KH, 10S, 10H - the cult network, awesome resources, extremely vicious, extremely loyal
Fort: KD, 7S - the monk-types who hold the skull secret, passing it around among themselves - very sophisticated, reasonably deadly, but not physically substantive
Mook: JC, 9H - the cult deputy leader, who happens to be an unbeliever - resistant and smart

Whoops. I slipped for a moment into "let me tell you about my character."

Arguably this game is "not an RPG" in the sense that putting on accents and providing dialogue while playing poker isn't role-playing, but Demilich falls a little closer to the line in my head. Doing that in poker would, to me, be distracting or even if fun, a bit more effort for eccentricity's sake, whereas in Demilich, I think it'd be irresistibly fun and would pump much more energy and material into the competition. Still, as long as we're looking at the not-an-RPG line in my head, since all the content is Color, I disagree with the text's assertion that it becomes role-playing simply by providing fun voices and 'tude throughout the process. It's not a point of issue for judging in this specific case, though. In the past Ronnies, especially the November 2005 round, I found myself forced to draw that line quite sharply. Here, I'm being less hard core and simply taking this kind of design in stride for its own purposes. I think I'll have to be pretty clear about the line in the introduction to the next rounds.

The text's rules explanation is a mess, and I could only grasp the mechanics by combing through the examples. As a public service announcement, it works like this: your skull-character's score sets the number of d6's you roll in a pool, you add up the values, and whatever asset (card) you're using, its value adds to the total. Then you compare that to the value of the card you're trying to capture, or if you're directly up against another lich, that player's using the same rules as you.

I do like the way the elegant way the cards set target numbers, and how that is perfectly symmetrical with all the aspects getting their values from cards. I'm interested in whether the characters fail much in real play, as the example characters seem to roll consistently low. If I understand correctly, it's likely that one will typically get the card one is seeking from the asset pile, but that when up against another lich, it's a real crapshoot - literally, in fact, given that the text recommends that the characters' scores be kept at 2 dice.

That leads to my biggest question, which seems to be cropping up through all the Gamist designs in this round of Ronnies, is really how much strategy is involved. The playing field seems so level, throughout the whole game, that winning may come down simply to the statistical vagaries of rolling vs. rolling. As I briefly considered in [The Fantasy Trip: Wizard] One little booklet = 100,000 words, pehaps there is such a thing as being so balanced that the climax is boring. I've played a lot of modern card games like this: Chrononaughts, Gloom, and many others, all of whom offer grand and hilarious geek-Color (for me included) and win awards and acclaim on release, and yet devolve into strategy-less, boring endgames, and within months, no one ever plays them again.
It will all depend on whether it's both possibly and iffy to get a quantitative jump on another person, and if one can time that right, to bounce "ahead" of the baseline, 50-50-on-average in order to win. The sweet spot of directly-competitive game design lies between (i) means of winning which lock the final result down long before play is over and (ii) maintaining such parity that earned gains cannot be counted upon. I am not skilled enough in such design to be a good consultant about how to do it, but games I find most fun toward this end, and which share certain features with this one, include Guillotine, Oriente, and Give Me the Brain.

This point relates all the way back to the first point about character creation, as acknowledged in the text: the best strategy for your character build is 2-2-2, an even spread across all the modes of confrontation. To me, that's a sign that the mechanics punish all but one way to play, for everyone, which is a relatively weak foundation for a strategic game. When I read that part initially, I noted "find a way to make it matter or junk the build altogether," but as I read further, I realized that character build was the only structural input one has. So I'm inclined to say instead, keep the character build, but find a way for diverse builds to be effective in play.

Smaller questions:

1. You start with one “thing” each for Clout, Fort, and Mook, right? How come the example guy has two mooks? Is this because it's a late-in-game example and he's beefed up play before this point?

2. I don't understand what Resistance is for Mooks. It's described as “loyal” in the example, but Loyalty is found elsewhere in the table, for Clout. Is it basically the same thing only named differently for Clout and Mooks? And what's it for, anyway? Is there some kind of special difference between an attack to defeat vs. an attack to suborn?

Hey Noam, if you get the chance, go to a game store where they have all those little card games in boxes, and just ... um, look at them. I took out my copies of Cold War, Oriente, Condotierre, and Traitor, and sort of held the cards and turned the boxes over and over, and thought about how well Demilich would fit in with them.

Best, Ron
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DorkThoughts
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« Reply #1 on: January 09, 2011, 07:03:48 PM »

Thanks a lot for the feedback. I am very honored to have done so well (especially looking at the other entries). This is my first successfully completed 24hour RPG and one of my first forays into game design. It really means a lot to me.

The rules are, indeed a mess. Reading them a day after I wrote them, I realized that there were some pretty glaring omissions (what kind of dice do you roll!?!?). I originally intended to have the examples in sidebars with the text, but my lack of layout expertise ruled that out. I'm glad that you were able to mostly parse things out from the example play.

I agree with the "not an RPG" arguement: as I was kludging the rules, I became more and more aware of that drifting and I just sort of ran with it. I think the trash talking and more of the color could be integrated better, something I'm working on for the solitaire version of the game.

I'll try and clarify some of the questions.

Quote
it works like this: your skull-character's score sets the number of d6's you roll in a pool, you add up the values, and whatever asset (card) you're using, its value adds to the total. Then you compare that to the value of the card you're trying to capture, or if you're directly up against another lich, that player's using the same rules as you.

You have inferred correctly!

Yes, loose cards should be easier to pick up, the assumption being that your Demilich has the means to accomplish most things if unopposed by something at its level. In regards to the low rolls, I blame my crappy luck. I also think I may have to dial down the difficulty (target numbers and such) because it does seem like I was failing more than felt right.

The recomendation of two dice per stat is something I'll probably lose; it did seem to create dull play. I was hoping that the lure of puting build points in Ancient (being able to re-roll more every once in a while) would prove too tempting.

I agree on the issue of too much balance creating blandness. I was hoping that the character questions combined with trash talking would be able to help differentiate Demilichs (even ones with identical stats). I think that I may try and have those questions be able to be used more in play (perhaps allowing rerolls in lieu of Ancient).

One strategic element I see that doesn't rely on chance at this point is the building of new Assets from the Common Pool, including destroying cards rather than let your opponent take them or building innefective ones to "taint the pool". I have to say I am largely ignorant of many of the games that you've mentioned (I've played Guilotine, and Gloom) but I will be taking steps to correct that.

In regards to your small questions:

1. The example has a Mook Asset which consists of two characters just to show that it can be done that way. A Mook Asset could be a monster, group of monsters, single adventurer or a party with each card representing 1 facet. I just liked the idea of a kobold raising a gnome. I can't tell if I've actually clarified this, so let me know.

2. Resistance/Loyal/Hearth is so that Assets will usually (1/4 time, or everytime they have hearts) have a card to default as defense. For Mooks it depends (flavorwise) if they are being attacked socially, physically, in combat, poisoned, etc. so I just tried to come up with a couple of generic terms. They are the same thing just named differently. There's no mechanical difference whether you're attacking or suborning an Assett. If you're successful, you get to choose what to do with the cards (discard, break em up for parts, claim it).

I am working on completing a solo version for the http://rpgsolitairechallenge.blogspot.com/ and if you'd like to check out that work in progress please do so here: http://imustnotthinkdorkthoughts.blogspot.com/

Once again, I thank you for the words of encouragement and invaluble feedback.

Noam
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: January 09, 2011, 07:29:54 PM »

Welcome to the Forge, Noam!

I think you and Nick Aubergine ought to play one another's games and start a thread devoted to talking about both.

Best, Ron
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DorkThoughts
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« Reply #3 on: January 10, 2011, 08:18:18 AM »

bI think you and Nick Aubergine ought to play one another's games and start a thread devoted to talking about both.

I am definitely down for something like this. I found Skull Full of Bong Hits to be hilarious (and even, unexpectedly poignant). I'll try and build a Demilich/smoking apparatus; seems like the motivation is baked in (pardon the pun).
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: January 17, 2011, 11:50:51 AM »

Hi Nick,

You wrote,

Quote
1. The example has a Mook Asset which consists of two characters just to show that it can be done that way. A Mook Asset could be a monster, group of monsters, single adventurer or a party with each card representing 1 facet. I just liked the idea of a kobold raising a gnome. I can't tell if I've actually clarified this, so let me know.

I suggest that edge-case or "gee you could do it this way" versions of rules aren't the best ones to use for a learning example. I also suggest that the game is made much easier to learn if the idea that one's starting assets are one thing each is enforced. I'm not saying that an asset shouldn't be defined as a group of some kind, but parceling its cards into two-assets-in-one seems unnecessarily complicated to me.

My apologies for the terseness of this post. On the plus side, a detailed and fun playtest thread is coming soon!

Best, Ron
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DorkThoughts
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« Reply #5 on: January 19, 2011, 04:44:14 PM »

Cool! I'm looking forward to the detailed playtest.

I'm actually in the process of moving right now, so work on the game has slowed a bit. However, I'm really excited about this project and am not going to let it fall by the wayside.

For further development, I'm thinking that I might change to thin strip like cards (as opposed to standard ones) that would be placed above each otherso that an asset takes up about the same room as one playing card. I may also use a MOOK/FORT/CLOUT column on each strip to give a bit more flavor.

Best,

Noam
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: January 19, 2011, 05:14:27 PM »

Already posted: [Demilich] Feckless fools! Your skulls are now my fang cozies.

Best, Ron
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DorkThoughts
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Posts: 7


« Reply #7 on: February 17, 2011, 08:08:36 AM »

Hey, just wanted to say thanks again to everyone for the encouragment and feedback. I just got to listen to the Mom's Basement Ronnie podcast and found it to be quite helpful. I've been busy lately with moving cities, but now that I'm about settled, I should have more time to work on revising my game as well as playtesting some of the other entrants.

I'm going to DunDraCon this weekend and will try and fit in a game or two of Demilich! along with some other Ronnie games (likely Skull Full of Bong Hits)

Thanks!
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