[Facing the End] Ronnies feedback

Started by Ron Edwards, January 16, 2011, 09:15:25 PM

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Ron Edwards

Lee Hammons' Facing the End is the final game of this round of Ronnies to receive feedback. The end-of-the-line status had nothing to do with the title - it turned out to be a pretty hard game to evaluate. Although I think this is about to change, solitaire RPG design is terra incognita, with the exception of choose your own adventure. So I'm going to leave the theory of playing alone (whatever it might be) alone and just work my way through a bunch of things I think need some re-consideration.

Not that my "mixing/baking" distinction is terminologically important, but I now figure this game presents more of a "mixing" issue than a "baking" one as I posted in my Ronnies results thread.

Big scale
Despite the colorful cast for opposition and the location, scene creation lacks provocation, especially in the thematic terms highlighted at the beginning: "The point of play is to explore themes of Grief, Regret, and Loss associated with the End of Life." I suppose it depends on a Clintonian dissection of what "explore" means, but my take is that the procedures of setting up a non-Dream-sequence scene are a bit flat in these terms. You get who, when, and how hard, but they are, effectively, random encounters. But drawing any one is no different from any other in terms of the character one is playing. I'm trying to see how the ordinary encounters are anything but an ongoing grind. Or to put it slightly differently, "resolving the conflict" in this text merely means it's over and makes way for the next one.

A detail to strengthen my call about this is that opposition is one thing, which is given a lot of page space and procedure to specify it, but goal is another. The rules state how one might fail one's goal via conflict resolution, but there actually hasn't been any goal stated to that point - only opposition. This is what led me to my "random encounter" comment. The goal is opposed by the opposition, but the only goal in the scene is to overcome the opposition. It kind of floats there.

This is in fact the Czege Principle's warning. It has nothing to do with difficulty levels, but rather with the fictional content of one's character's driving urge at the moment, the circumstances of opposition, the details of confrontation, and the outcome and ongoing consequences of that confrontation. These things are integrated. Distinguishing between an Amazon Guard vs. a Knight Errant through a card draw isn't enough, if there is no difference in character goal based on that distinction. And if you have to make up that difference out of whole cloth at the same time you get to narrate how you overcome or fail against it ... well, that's what gets exhausting and ultimately not fun.

I'm much more interested in the dream sequences and the Grief mechanic. You're supposed to come up with various elements of these things through personal reflection, and at one point the text states:

QuoteAt the end of each game session, reevaluate all the goals, relationships, avocations, and places in light of both the game fiction and the Player's real life priorities.

That's heavy stuff, perhaps a little far into the self-help pool for me, but not a weak ambition for a game, for sure. For it to work, I think the procedures will have to build up those features in play prior to resolution circumstances.

Procedure scale
I'm a little confused about the difficulty matrix. The rules for using it are scattered a bit, and there seems to be two of them. Correct if it's all in there and I'm simply not getting it.

There is way too much Dogs in all of this, too. As I've written most recently in [The War of the Sheaves] Ronnies feedback, the dice procedures in Dogs are quite finely tuned to the game's reward mechanics (Fallout) and intangible thematic tension (morality of judgment through violence), and there is nothing particularly fun or sacred about them when pulled out of that context. In this case, there isn't anything thematic going on with the "pull in aspect, talk; pull in aspect, talk" cycle. It's not color or drama, it's merely a chore. There is no point at all to doing this piecemeal, or including escalation without thematic punch. You increase difficulties for later, yes, but that's mere numbers and there are numerical ways to offset it, making it a speed-bump subroutine.

The role-playing is wholly thespian, which is to say, depicting stuff you are instructed to depict. As a solo player, then, you have to create backwards in order to do it, stating/playing the thing that opposes you, the thing you do, why you do it, what it does, and why you then regret it, all at once. This is the same as what I called attention to at the climax of Joe's game in [Swords of the Skull-Takers] Ronnies feedback - a whole lot of authoring of both context and consequence with very little prior buildup or sense of "cornering" one up to the point of decision.

So I found myself a bit down upon finding that nothing in play generates and reinforces the production of a character goal prior to the conflict phase. Lee, I'm really interested in what you see in your head when a person is playing - how do they get the tension about the goal introduced in fictional terms?

Detail scale
Do red kings and queens get taken into a unique hand or cache?

I like the edgy names and concepts for the Nightmare Apostles.

Can Stone Seal at Graystead appear just whenever due to the draw, even in the first turn of the game? That seems weird.

So! Lee, I hope the long wait wasn't dreadful, and that this post raises some points that interest you. Let me know.

Best, Ron


So I don't have a ton of time tonight to get to a lot of this, but as a consequence of playtesting, I agree with pretty much everything that you said. I will cherry pick a few responses.

The random encounter element works beautifully, and it is very easy to frame a scene, but you are right, I really need to work on making the non-dream-sequences more like the dream sequences. I also need to figure out a little better how to draw the real life stuff into the fiction more. I think that if I was able to do that, to create a slow build up of tension that explodes in the dream sequences, I would have accomplished the goal I set out for.

The Dogs resolution has already been tossed. I realized after I had gotten some sleep that it was way too involved and added nothing. I was hoping that Dogs dice would encourage a certain level of narration that people otherwise might skip it there was no one there to call them on it. It didn't work out as well as I had hoped. I have play tested it with some mechanics sorta derived from Lady Blackbird, but with some evocative but generic traits and tags, and that worked a ton better. I am currently contemplating going to a full wushu type mechanic, with a few adjustments. Adding some sort of complication mechanic to wushu, somehow in line with Apocalypse World moves or Ghost/Echo style moves. Anyway, the resolution mechanic is in flux, and the only solid decision is that the Dogs dice are out.

The Grief mechanit has evolved to include a more fleshed out set of rules for what I am calling Bonds. These are the real life things that you bring into the game. The real goal with this mechanic is to connect the player as solidly with the trials of the character. Bringing in the real life of the player would ensure some pretty serious buy in. I had an experience in my med school palliative care clerkship that game me this idea. Let me just say that it made 15 participants in a guided visualization cry, leave school half way through the day, and call their families. Getting that in an RPG would be pretty incredible. The addition of the Grief mechanic was meant to connect those elements in the game back to the game itself. We will see how that will turn out. It may not even be neccessary, as the Bonds have the potential to have a huge impact on a player all by themselves.

So I guess I can say that, at this point, I am working on giving the in-between scenes more meaning (hopefully through some slow but meaningful loss of some type), solidifying my resolution mechanic (the traits and tags are working pretty cool, but I think that going to full wushu might be better), and tightening up the rest of the game. The central mechanic will be the Bonds, and their effect on the player and the rest of the game. Working that out it the big part.

Thanks again for wading through my almost incoherent mess. I'll send you a new copy as soon as I have fixed a few more things.