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Author Topic: [Danse Macabre] Ronnies feedback  (Read 2299 times)
Ron Edwards
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« on: January 10, 2011, 07:26:50 PM »

William Duryea's Danse Macabre is a jeepform. William, I dunno if you know what that is, but ... um, you don't have to, because you wrote one. If you're interested in this definitional detour, see Vi åker jeep. Oh, and if you get the chance, check out James Brown's game Death's Door.

So, detour over, it's time to talk about the game. But where do I start with something that's ready to go? I guess the biggest surprise is that someone hasn't done this already considering how well all the parts fit together.

Major suggestions
1. Your discussion of prep is wholly individualized, meaning what each person does with the information he or she has received. How much table-talk, loosely defined, do you see occurring during this phase? Can people talk about their characters prior to play? Compare them? Bounce ideas off one another for purposes of finalizing? Or should character creation remain private until play begins, so that people

The same question applies as well to play itself. How should people talk to one another? Is there any room for speaking to one another about what's going on, in addition to playing one's role? Can one express, for instance, appreciation of a really good contribution made by someone else? I really like the kind of non-naturalistic mosh-pit approach you've described, in which we are not really talking about depicting scenes in a stagey sense. But given this choice, these instructions about during-play talk become important, because there really is no basis to know or to decide in the absence of instruction.

2. I suggest that consensus ideals or no consensus ideals, the person who has brought the game to the rest of the people is going to act as a kind of leader, or at least facilitator of the play process. It may be worth formally acknowledging this role, at least in terms of deciding, for instance, whether character creation is done. I'm thinking about a few people I know who are absolutely incapable of finishing character creation, particularly any process which requires individual creative input, until someone else in the group flatly tells them "choose" and they quit waffling around the options they're stuck in. And in any process where you pass around cards and stuff like that, someone is going to be the one to say "Now we do this," or it won't get done.

3. Setting is a big deal for this game, as I see it. It adds thematic weight that moves the story and insight beyond mere individual psychology. It strikes me that the text would benefit from a single solid setting example, including some source material, or what to read to get it. Then people could use the degree of information and the way it's presented as a model to come up with settings of their own.

Minor suggestions
1. What's all this hoo-ha about a King's power possibly being only "imagined"? Screw that. The nature of that power, and over what, could certainly vary all over the map, but the power's gotta be real or that person is no King. Um, in my opinion.

2. I think adding The Wife as another character rank would be awesome. And it's gender-neutral like the King depending on the details.

3. Considering how customizable each character rank is, I don't see that it's necessary for every one (of those available) to be represented, or that duplication would be a problem. Perhaps people should pick their character rank privately from a list with items equalling the number of players, and let whatever duplication or omission comes up be whatever it is.

4. If you're using ordinary playing cards, the Ace of Spades is death. I can't imagine why any other card would be pegged as such, or what the point of allowing using any other card would be.

Well, that's it. I wish I had more to say, but you're way ahead me for this sort of design on your own.

Best, Ron
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whduryea
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« Reply #1 on: January 10, 2011, 08:48:17 PM »

William Duryea's Danse Macabre is a jeepform. William, I dunno if you know what that is, but ... um, you don't have to, because you wrote one. If you're interested in this definitional detour, see Vi åker jeep.

I've looked at jeepform rpgs in the past, but I didn't sit down to make this game and think, "I'm going to make a jeepform."

Odd coincidence: I was looking over the jeepform dictionary just before reading this review, and it was only them that I realized what I had done.

 
How much table-talk, loosely defined, do you see occurring during this phase? Can people talk about their characters prior to play? Compare them? Bounce ideas off one another for purposes of finalizing? Or should character creation remain private until play begins, so that people

I playtested this game with my small local group Sunday and I allowed them to discuss their characters prior to play. Whether or not players bounce ideas off of each other, I think it is important that they share their concepts prior to play. I think this will help the player characters (and later Death) interact with each other in a way that advances each player's goals (for lack of a better word).

 
The same question applies as well to play itself. How should people talk to one another? Is there any room for speaking to one another about what's going on, in addition to playing one's role? Can one express, for instance, appreciation of a really good contribution made by someone else?

When we playtested this game, out of character comments were kept to a minimum but not banned entirely. Usually these were limited to quick compliments (like you describe), simple clarification questions and short commentary on play (ex: noting when a piece of music synced particularly well with the current scene). I think this worked well, but I can understand how some groups may find even this level of meta interaction distracting, so I need to give this point some thought.

I really like the kind of non-naturalistic mosh-pit approach you've described, in which we are not really talking about depicting scenes in a stagey sense. But given this choice, these instructions about during-play talk become important, because there really is no basis to know or to decide in the absence of instruction.

Yes, I agree. These are the kind of unquestioned assumptions that arise from the habits of my particular group that I really need to find a way to articulate in the text of the game. Presenting this style in a way that readers could understand was one of my major concerns while writing the game.

2. I suggest that consensus ideals or no consensus ideals, the person who has brought the game to the rest of the people is going to act as a kind of leader, or at least facilitator of the play process. It may be worth formally acknowledging this role, at least in terms of deciding, for instance, whether character creation is done.

This is a good point, and, once again, a place where my unquestioned assumptions lead to omissions in the text. I'll definitely try to incorporate this when revising.

3. Setting is a big deal for this game, as I see it. It adds thematic weight that moves the story and insight beyond mere individual psychology. It strikes me that the text would benefit from a single solid setting example, including some source material, or what to read to get it.

Ideally, this game would present a detailed description of two model settings: Black Death Era Europe and a contemporary 21st century community. (I'm not sure if I would use the suburban example that I give in the text, as that seems like kind of a cop-out.) The medieval plague setting is important as it serves as the foundation of most of the game's source material (and, I think, serves as a sort of bridge between the game and more mainstream fantasy RPGs), but I also want a more mundane, close-to-home setting to be highlighted.


1. What's all this hoo-ha about a King's power possibly being only "imagined"? Screw that. The nature of that power, and over what, could certainly vary all over the map, but the power's gotta be real or that person is no King. Um, in my opinion.

Originally, my thought was that the King could be someone who saw themselves as a leader or person of importance, even if they were not. In retrospect, this really gets into Pride territory and creates some messy conceptual overlap between the ranks and the temptations. So, yeah, you're right. I think I'll change this.

(Really the ranks should be social and material while the temptations are mental. However, I think I failed to make this distinction in some instances. Something else to watch out for when editing)

2. I think adding The Wife as another character rank would be awesome. And it's gender-neutral like the King depending on the details.

I like this a lot, and, with your permission, I'll use it.

3. Considering how customizable each character rank is, I don't see that it's necessary for every one (of those available) to be represented, or that duplication would be a problem. Perhaps people should pick their character rank privately from a list with items equalling the number of players, and let whatever duplication or omission comes up be whatever it is.

I do want rank to be determined randomly for thematic reasons. However, I'm considering allowing players to chose their temptations, since that makes more sense given the source material.

If I ever create a final version of this game, I'd like to add a sidebar with details on other ranks--like the jester, the monk, the wife, etc.--that can be used when you have more than five players or that can be swapped into the game in place of original ranks. Ideally, I'd like to see players start with the original five and diversify as they become accustomed to the game.

4. If you're using ordinary playing cards, the Ace of Spades is death. I can't imagine why any other card would be pegged as such, or what the point of allowing using any other card would be.

I agree. I'm not sure why I equivocated in the text.

One more thing for those interested in them game:

The text contains one significant typo that might cause confusion. The Playing Death section says:

Quote
So a player who was left holding the Death Card at the end of the second Life Scene would begin playing Death at the end of the third Life Scene and continue through the following Death Scene until the start of the fourth Life Scene when the next player will become Death. [italics added]

That should be the beginning, not the end.

Thanks for all of the helpful feedback. I'm not sure what future I envision for this game--Is it something I could expand into a finished product and sell?--but I will definitely keep all of these thoughts in mind as I consider that.

(edited to fix quote format - RE)
« Last Edit: January 10, 2011, 08:58:23 PM by Ron Edwards » Logged

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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: January 10, 2011, 09:01:34 PM »

Holy shit, I totally borked one of my comments. I wanted to suggest that the temptations be chosen, and allow for overlap, rather than the social ranks. I'm glad you answered the way you did - shows I was on the right track.

One other thing: your writing is incredibly good. I really appreciate the care you took toward clarity, communication, editing, and everything about the text as prose.

And one more! Please utilize (or ignore) anything I've suggested as you see fit.

Best, Ron
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whduryea
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« Reply #3 on: January 12, 2011, 01:19:41 PM »

I've been thinking over this game for a few days, and the question that has come to dominate my thoughts is this:

What now?

Do I attempt to polish this into something I can sell? Is there a market for this particular kind of RPG? Is there enough content in this game for it to be expanded into a manual? And so on.

What steps should I take to begin to answer these questions?

I've never really thought seriously about developing a game into a finished, marketable product before, so forgive me if these questions seem too simplistic or too general.

(Also, I'm not just asking Ron these questions. I'd like to hear from anyone who has any insight to offer.)
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Bret Gillan
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« Reply #4 on: January 12, 2011, 04:02:39 PM »

Well, rounding up people to play it should probably be your first bet. I have one game nearly ready to publish and just getting out there with it and playing it with people answered a lot of those questions for me. Having people be enthusiastic about it or say, "Holy shit you've gotta publish this" answers the "are there people who want to play this?" question.

So I think you should absolutely work on refining it and publishing it, and I think playtesting it is your first step.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: January 13, 2011, 07:40:02 AM »

Hi William,

I think the most successful publishing is embedded within designing, just as the most successful designing is embedded in play.

It is very reasonable to want one's publishing efforts to be satisfying and practical (for oneself, I mean), and there are a lot of questions and answers to help nail down how you might want to do it. But here, I want to reinforce Bret's point that it's not like selling just another soda brand, in which the physical design, distribution plan, production budget, and marketing scheme can all be figured out absolutely independently of whether the stuff is any good.*

Therefore the main advice I have is, "play the game, enjoy the game, adjust the game" with the primary point being to make something you think works in the way you enjoy it working. Then everything else I'm about to say in this post should be considered from within that process.

First, writing it isn't the same as designing it, nor the same as publishing it. Writing it is an entirely different task, with many pitfalls. The main ones are (i) seeking to placate or draw another audience beyond those who (like you) simply enjoy this kind of thing, or might if they knew about it, (ii) failing to explain how to do stuff that you personally do quite easily and intuitively, and (iii) getting too involved with on-line design discussions and identity politics.

Regarding the publishing itself, there are dozens of primary decisions. What is it, physically, as a product? What sales venue seems to be the best, especially relative to what sort of promotion you can genuinely provide? What sort of budget is available, designed as the amount that you could afford to lose entirely? But I think the most important one is, what does "success" mean to you for the project? That really helps nail down the answers to all the others, and other things like what scale of commerce you're operating in.

The good news is that there's no rush, and there's also a logical sequence to these decisions which means you don't have to write up a 10,000 word mission statement and detailed plan all the way to the end, at least not at the start. There are also tons of people who've done it and have lots of good advice on any given point.

I hope that helps or at least makes sense. Let me know.

Best, Ron

* As an aside: fuck you to all those B-schools out there. Just, fuck you.


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whduryea
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« Reply #6 on: January 20, 2011, 09:48:58 AM »

Thanks Ron. Sorry it took me so long to reply to these suggestions. I've been digesting them.

From what you and Bret have said, it seems clear that my next step should be to find people interested in playtesting the game and get their feedback. I'll start a playtesting thread in Game Development and see if I can cultivate some interest.

Thanks.
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