[They Became Flesh] Ronnies feedback

Started by Ron Edwards, February 10, 2011, 01:47:21 PM

Previous topic - Next topic

Ron Edwards

They Became Flesh by Elizabeth Sampat is a Runner-Up, and as is so often the case with that designation, exceeds one or more of the actual Ronnies winners (in all rounds to date) in terms of potential. This entry is one of my two favorites of the whole round.

The virtues of the design are pure and forceful, and so coherent in terms of Creative Agenda, with the kind of deft touch that characterizes Cold Soldier. Also, it's a great example of what Emily has called dialogue through design: the rules blend specific features of The Drifter's Escape with specific features of Thy Vernal Chieftains, without uncritically ripping the games off. I know that the text lists other games as influences, but those are the two that I see, anyway.

Unfortunately it does not meet the terms requirement, specifically, "murder" is absent, which I figure is a matter of the design twisting away from the initial moments of inspiration as it was written. I hoped to see it show up at least in the examples, but as it turned out, there just isn't any murder involved. I did think perhaps that since Lucifer is the angel player-character in three-person play, "morning" might be successfully substituted for "murder" on the basis of the popular (although textually meaningless) associations of "fallen angel," "Venus," "light-bringer," "Lucifer," "morning star," and Isaiah 14:3-20 ... but that's not brought forward in the text at all, so I couldn't cut the game any slack that way.

Also, one conceptual and mechanical problem really hamstrings my understanding of how to play, which I'll try to explain in the context of the overall design. OK, you have three circles with point values, and as play continues, you remove points from the circles and draw in attached circles which are powers. The points basically just disappear at whatever rate you want to keep adding powers. To do stuff, you roll 1d6 + whatever d6 the two GM players tempt you with. The cool thing about rolling is that every die does something, leading to a lot of implications for the next scenes of play following any given roll. So then ...

The problem
Do you stop playing when you run out of points in a sphere, or don't you? (i) It's the designated endgame state; however, (ii) there are rules for how you can make new powers when you have no points in a sphere, implying that you are in fact still playing.

Screeching halt! I put my head on the table when this happened. This isn't merely a detail. It's the linchpin of exactly what you do with your points and your character's actions throughout play. It's exactly the point of maximum fictional consequence for mechanics decisions and vice versa. If this doesn't work, then the whole text falls apart into scattered components, which although colorful, are not a game.

The issue is compounded by a certain textual confusion between powers and points, specifically the ambiguous use of the term "sacrifice" for both. You sacrifice points off your spheres to make powers, but you sacrifice powers to make more powers for spheres without points. This gets a bit muddled here and there in the text, making it all the harder to figure out what to do about the primary issue above.

As a possible related issue, one thing I'm planning to look for when playtesting is whether characters lose their points too fast, and whether each character simply dives straight down the drain within a few scenes of play. It may be that play would benefit from some way to gain points back onto one's spheres, without compromising one's existing powers.

Other issues
It needs some practical GM talk - conferral between Humanity and God players as stated, yes, but what about after that? Who then talks and how does the SIS get going? The example reads in an alarming fashion, because it doesn't distinguish between prep and play. This game deeply needs in-fiction engagement for all things which happen, never, ever to include "this happens" and "well then I" story-conferencing. Therefore some kind of transition between God-Humanity conferral and all-of-us-playing needs to be formalized.

There seems to be some confounding of a rolled Price vs. a scene-based adverse consequence based on the loss a power. I'm talking about the example, in which the player decides not to accept the proffered die because he doesn't want to risk a Price ... but then, apparently because he sacrifices a power, his rolled unqualified success turns out to carry a Humanity Price anyway. That doesn't seem fair at all.

Minor points
Setting strikes me as a significant issue. Ancient middle east, European middle ages, and post-Milton England or France seem especially appropriate - here I don't necessarily mean literally, so much as certain technological, cultural, and geographical motifs. What I'm wondering is not so much about really detailed canonical setting as what imagery is involved, which ties into certain ethical and cultural crises associated with the sets of motifs. Perhaps the game would benefit from you, Elizabeth, simply picking one to reinforce through illustrations.

I hope I correctly noted the brief but significant implication that player-character angels will be living together in one human community, or wandering as a group. This seems important to me because unless angels interact with one another directly, the Fraternity will be rendered irrelevant and possibly a mere bank of points to spend without thematic punch. In fact, it also seems to me that single-player-character play will be viable, on this basis.

Which also leads to questions about handling conflicts among angel player-characters, which if I'm seeing this game correctly, would definitely be likely.

Best, Ron


Wow, that is some incredibly high praise. Thank you. And also some incredibly valid critique!

I think with an extra three hours this game could have been great (and I plan to give it those three hours over the weekend). Having a character sheet would have helped fix the giant, glaring issue, as would having a bit more time to give the text a once-over.

Points on a sphere become powers. When you have no points on the sphere to make new powers, you can sacrifice to make new ones. When you have no points OR powers on a sphere, endgame.

Also I obliquely mentioned that many of the host were murdered, and the example of play had an angel being murdered for witchcraft, but even that felt thin to me. My initial visual inspiration was the streets in Heaven running with blood, but then I chose to write about what came after— which lost the inspiration. Alas.


Hey Elizabeth,

When I read this I was wondering if it was legal to sacrifice powers back and forth.  Assuming I sacrifice a Compassion power for a Fraternity power can I, at a later date, sacrifice a Fraternity power to gain a Compassion power?  Can I gain the same Compassion power I used to have?

This seems assuming this is legal that seems to partially address Ron's concern about running out of points too quickly.  Assuming I'm willing to suck up the narrative consequences I can shuffle my powers around all I want to avoid endgame.

If this is the case that almost puts the two GMs in a "herding" position.  Almost like they're trying to emotionally box you in such that choice between staving off endgame and obtaining your fictional goals is strained.


Ron Edwards

Whoops, I included a significant typo in my second-to-last paragraph. The sentence in question should read:

QuoteIn fact, it also seems to me that single-player-character play will not be viable, on this basis.

Best, Ron


I really like the way you approached your subject matter. Religious material can be hard to incorporate into a role-playing game with seeming didactic or exploitative. This game is neither. My first thought when reading your design doc was: "This is the game that I wanted Demon: The Fallen to be." It has all of the tantalizing, ambiguous promise of playing fallen angels at odds with God's will without any of the goofy setting content, immaturity or inconsequential mechanics that hamstring the World of Darkness games. Your vision of early tribal Israel is really interesting, and I wish it had been fleshed out a little more in the test. (Although I also understand why it wasn't, given the time constraints.)

I can't say too much about the mechanics, because I didn't really have much time to digest them during my initial reading of the game. They definitely seemed appealing and unique, but I can't offer much of a critique. One thing that really stood out to me (albeit for selfish reasons) was you dual-GM system. I actually use a very similar system in an Old Testament era game that I've been working on. The only real difference is that the God GM also plays all NPCs who aren't part of the Tribe of Israel, while the other GM plays only Israel. I opted to do this because I felt like the gentile tribes and nations always seemed more like tools to tempt, test or rebuke Israel than actual humans with their own will or destiny, so it seemed more suitable to have them directly controlled by God. (Oddly, my game also features a moral currency system, but it functions very differently than the one in this game.)

I think the most personally compelling thing about this game is how it uses the fantastical. I love games that use their fantastic elements to explore or reveal something about mundane reality, rather than using them to usurp reality or circumvent real problems. (Nick Aubergine's Skull Full of Bong Hits really excelled in this area too.) Every bit of fantasy in this game underscores real personal and social concerns about religion and responsibility without ever offering easy escape routes.
terrible games about terrible people in terrible situations/
terrible games about terrible people in terrible situations


Jesse, moving points back and forth between spheres is fine. But I feel like once you sacrifice a power, it goes away completely. So like in the example, I don't think that Samael could love the boy's mother again. When it's gone, it's gone. As to your extrapolation about endgame, that's basically what I assume: that the GMs would be able to pick out the spheres the character is most drawn to protecting and start going after the others, so the conflict becomes between keeping all of the small things that make you who you are in the face of one large thing that will change you forever, or sacrificing all of the small parts of your identity to keep one larger ideal.

Ron, you're right. I bet the game needs four people to work and five people to sing.

whduryea, I'm glad you find the game so appealing. I stole the dual GM thing from How We Came To Live Here, and it seems to work. I'm glad you like the take on the fantastical; it was important to me that miracles and wonders be systematically and mechanically equivalent to things like love and moral codes, since they're all equally magic (IMO) and intertwined with each other.

Ron Edwards

Hi Elizabeth,

I need to see the revised version, because I can no longer make heads or tails of these three terms: spheres, points, powers.

One key missing thing, in fact the first thing in my notes but which I didn't list in my post, is what happens to a point when you make a power. Think of points as tokens on the sphere. Let's say it's the beginning of the game, and we play for a while, and I invent a power for my character associated with, say, Fraternity.

I write the name of the power over to the side somewhere, draw a circle around it, and connect it to Fraternity with a line. Now I drop the value of Fraternity by one. What do I do with the token, i.e., the point? As far as I can tell, it should simply be eliminated. There's no need to move it over to the new power. That power doesn't need points; it either exists, available for use, or is sacrificed (gone).

I don't see anything about moving points anywhere. They're either static on the spheres or eliminated by making powers.

To continue, say I want to make a new power based on Fraternity but there are no points left on that sphere. Fine, I cross off some power that I happen to have drawn connected to some other sphere, say Compassion, and make this new power.

... here the language gets confusing, because the text talks about moving the point from that crossed-off Compassion power to the empty sphere, presumably to be spent from there to make the new power. This led me to think that you must have moved the point originally from the Fraternity sphere to the power, where it sits there doing ... nothing. It makes way more sense to me to get rid of a point entirely as soon as a power is created, and then have the empty-sphere power-creation process simply be about crossing off powers and making new ones, with no points involved.

That's why all this "sacrifice" talk is going haywire in the original draft and I cannot make heads or tails of what to do. It is likely that the process is crystal clear in your mind and you're steadily working through the re-write to explain it ... but long experience with others' game design processes has shown me that there's also the chance that it's not clear in your mind either but only pretends to be, and needs a full conceptual reboot. I can't tell from here which is the case.

I got nervous about the latter possibility because now, in your post, you're talking about moving points back and forth between spheres, which corresponds to exactly nothing in the text I'm reading. What in the world?

It may be time to stop posting and to go back to the draft by yourself for a while. Fielding questions based on a first draft, while you are holding a half-corrected draft, can be disastrous to the design process.

Best, Ron

P.S. To make all of this clearer to those who are interested, none of this has anything to do with effectiveness. One does not use a sphere "naked," you only do stuff (or rather, important stuff) by using powers. And power use is always 1 to 3 d6, regardless of the point value of the sphere in question.


So, as promised I've done a new version of the text. I spent most of my time concentrating on two different things: streamlining the text and terminology to be crystal-freaking-clear, and adding more stuff to flesh out the setting and work on establishing the SiS. Ron, I owe you particularly for that bit, as I stole shamelessly from one of my favorite parts of S/lay w/me.

It should be up on 1KM1KT soon, but until then:

Shreyas also made me a character sheet, but I was busy while he was working on it and I didn't realize he made it in such a way that using it as I describe in the text is impossible. To use this, you have to count and make sure that no more ten power circles are in play at any given time, and I guess just cross out the ones you've sacrificed. Making your own sheet would be pretty easy.

I'd be really psyched to get feedback on this version; I feel like, at this point, it's pretty solid and playtestable. And maybe even fun. Oh! As to the illustrations, they're still basically what they were, but I'm talking to a couple of illustrators about maybe doing some proper images for the game. This is the fastest I've ever had a game come together in my brain!


Just a small bump, in the hopes that any of the confused parties can give me feedback on this round of revisions.

Also, aesthetically, I'm considering dropping the grunge in favor of a more traditionally sleek/illuminated font and ornaments. What do you think? Is the grunge adding anything?

Ron Edwards

Hi Elizabeth,

I'm glad you bumped it, because I was uncertain about harshing on you regarding my concerns. I still am totally baffled about the points I raised above about spheres, points, and powers, and that's my biggest concern about the game. I'm reluctant to applaud or even discuss any effort toward production and presentation decisions at this point, because the thing's not playable until that issue gets resolved.

Now, it could be that I'm not seeing or understanding relevant revisions in the new text, so lay it out for me here if you think the rules are solid.

Best, Ron


Okay, let's see if I can make it clear.

I've eliminated all talk of points and spheres from the game. If I mention a point or a sphere it's a legacy thing that I missed. I realized that referring to spheres and circles was too confusing, and points were essentially superfluous.

I did this thing which I am super fucking excited about, where I stripped away everything except what I thought the most barebones explanation of the rules was. I fed them to people who never read the PDF and asked them exactly where they got lost. I revised, found a new person to bother, and did it again. This is what resulted.

When you make a character, there are three things that draw your character's loyalty: Compassion, Fraternity, and Remembrance. These three things are called Draws. You've got ten slots for powers that those loyalties will give you. Distribute those power slots among your three Draws.

Example: Bret decides to distribute three slots to Compassion, three to Fraternity, and four to Remembrance. Later in play, that means Bret will have a maximum of three Compassion related Powers, three Fraternity related powers, and four Remembrance related powers.

Make up the powers as you need them. When you make a power, it fills up one of the slots. There will be a time when you run out of power slots in a particular Draw, but want to make a new power there anyway. If that happens, then you have to cross off a power in another Draw. Then you can put an additional power in the Draw you wanted.

When there are zero slots and powers in any one Draw, it's endgame.

Ron Edwards

Hi Elizabeth,

How serious do you want me to get here? I'm asking kind of a personal question. What I have in mind for feedback would not really acceptable to me from just anyone reading my design work on-line. It would only be acceptable to me from someone who I figured knew the game pretty much as well as I did and without being the designer or publisher, was deeply committed to its success, and who I thought could help clear out some mounting problems. I'm thinking of the intense session Gregor and I did, with Mayuran and Julie as well, almost a year after the first Ronnies, with his blocked and messy draft of 3:16. I am talking about a temporary interaction but quite intense.

Conversely, I'm OK if you don't need that kind of presence in your game design. I rarely want it myself. Let me know.

Best, Ron


Ron, were it almost anyone else I'd politely say thanks but no thanks. I trust you implicitly when it comes to game design, and I have already learned more from participating in this round of the Ronnies than I ever have, from any initial work on any game.

Please, by all means. I'm grateful for the offer.

Ron Edwards

Cool. After all that buildup, though, I'm going to bust out a little more initial feedback for the entries I haven't got to yet. Then back to They Became Flesh.

Best, Ron