[They Became Flesh] Ronnies feedback

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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:


In 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.


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