[Wings of Blood] Ronnies feedback

Started by Ron Edwards, February 11, 2011, 08:30:14 PM

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Ron Edwards

Wings of Blood by Paolo Davolio ... Holy cow, googly eyed spike-backed freaky reptile dudes, all drawn by Ralph Bakshi's herpetological evil twin! For example ...

I was born on an idyllic island with a quiet temple of learning nestled among its hills. I was raised as a scholar and explorer, under a master's care. Until, a sad day, death entered my life. It was Gorion's fault - he killed my student comrades, setting upon their meditation circle and tearing them to pieces. I can't forgive this because they were innocent and held more hope than I - I should have died, not them.

I'll fly away, from island to island, from land to land, and I'll search for him until he'll answer to me about his crimes, because blood calls to blood.

The first step will be to acquire the Great Map my mentor spoke of.

Here's what my rolls got me: Tall, sharp spikes, long neck, big arms, three fingers, sawed tail, two knees, six toes, hooked horns, fish-like crest, very big eyes, more teeth rows, stubby claws; all colored yellow, white, and orange. My wings are a whole series of little pairs running along my neck and back and tail. My notes go on: flies like snake, arms & legs near the hind end, minor by comparison - just an anchor for when he whips his head around and crunches you in his big toothy bite! The crossed-out ones are my freebies to cancel.

Spirits 4, Brute Force 0, Cunning 8, Speed 4, Influence Others 0; Rage 4, Heart 3. Name: Shining Serpent

The steps of character creation now lead me to my first criticism, which might seem trivial at first glance, but actually illustrates my primary concern about the game. What the hell is going on with character equipment and objects? These are big spiky reptile guys! They don't wear clothes, for God's sake! They don't carry stuff around in rucksacks! Are we really to give a moment's thought to whether they are carrying a bullseye lantern and 10 iron spikes or not?* Am I to imagine Shining Serpent whizzing snakily through the sky ... clutching his bedroll and an oil lamp? And what does he need with an axe or any other weapon? He has his teeth! And he doesn't need a ranged attack, because he is a ranged attack. I strongly suspect that all this talk of equipment is legacy text from some generic fantasy setting and should be scrapped as quickly as possible.

The primary concern I'm trying to express is that once one moves from the colorful and exciting foundation for the game, there's nothing to do which carries forward specifically from that foundation, and in fact, a fair amount of material which undercuts it. In its current form, it doesn't even matter that the characters are colorful reptiles with wings driven to vengeance. They could be young men and women armed with swords. Nor does it matter that their stories begin with unprovoked massacres. They could be opportunities to save the kingdom or to make money. In order for the textual elements (reptiles flying to avenge a murder) to be actually fun, rather than being a meaningless gloss painted onto same-old, boring gaming, those elements have to be tied into play, not merely initiate play. Nor should there be elements which diminish the strength of the picture.

Fortunately, the solution has been worked out here at the Forge: it lies in Situation, the fictional circumstances of the character, which is actually what settings and characters are for (rather than the other way around). The issue is whether Situation is integrated with System, and contrary to certain design trends, the issue for System is not centered on resolution mechanics in isolation (do I roll a 3d6 or a 2d10 to hit?), but rather on reward mechanics and how all aspects of play relate to them, whether directly, indirectly, or in parallel.

That was very abstract so I'll try to get specific for Wings of Blood. I'd love to play Shining Serpent. But the trouble is, once I've created him, all the game provides for me is a series of fights which whittle him down, with nothing interesting to do, or anything interesting to look forward to except a bigger fight. Let's look at the consequences mechanics that can affect the various values on my character sheet. Let's see ... I can lose my motivations, ultimately quitting my quest; or I can die, failing my quest. If I manage my points and get good dice rolls, though, then I can keep going.

As I see it, these mechanics are all about being permitted to continue to play - which is circular, in that "success" in playing only means being able to keep playing. And play itself is solely composed of my point management, subject to the luck of the dice, as I simply proceed over speedbumps and hope I'm not unlucky enough to be booted out of play. For the game really to be playable for something, this has to change.

Start with the fictional side of things, which at the local, play-session scale, is composed of the specific scenarios and adventures that my character will face as we go along. As written, these adventures are absolutely nothing but speedbumps. For them to fun, they have to be more than delaying actions posing as "investigations" ending in fighty-fights. What might those situations be?

And at the larger scale, the murdering villains must be more than merely lights at the end of a tunnel, and once encountered, not simply the same as the various speedbumps that have already been overcome, only bigger. As such, the climax has no climactic content: I fight a guy who has remained completely out of the story the entire time, existing up until this point only as a name on my character sheet. At that point, I can succeed or I can fail, and I might as well have just started play at this point for the previous experiences matter.

What is the fictional content about these villains? For Ronnies purposes, but also in the interest of your game at its very core, what was the murder about? How does proceeding island to island matter in terms of this content? You can't use the argument that the hero must bulk up through experience; that's circular. Think instead about the hero learning more and more about the murder, the Nemesis, and oneself. You can do this to make the mission more important and engaging, without diminishing the villainy of the killer or undercutting the premise of vengeance.

All right, so those are the fictional points. Now we should look at the system side of things. What your text lacks is an identifiable reward system, which means the nominal reward mechanics (e.g. improvement of numbers on the sheet) have no satisfying quality - they are not fun. (For my latest writing about reward systems and reward mechanics, see [Poison'd] Trying to understand Currency and Reward Systems). A reward system needs to be about the situational content for character or setting or both, and what can happen to them, not merely about taking damage to your body to the point of death or to your motivation to the point of quitting. How to do that - well, that's your issue as the designer. Rage and Heart do point the way, but they should be more than merely sources of bonuses and the psychological equivalent of hit points.

Answering these questions and developing this side of the game (its most important side) should also help resolve another issue: how do multiple player-characters interact? Is there one single Nemesis shared by everyone, or one for each player-character? My impression is the latter, as the text mentions that any given scene focuses on only one player-character, but in that case, there is really no reason to play with more than one person plus the GM, at all.

That's a neat resolution system, by the way. My first concern with it is how the order of actions is integrated with their resolution, as the days of traditional (absurd) initiative are long behind us now.

My second concern is the annoying fiddliness of having NPCs operate according to the same mechanics as the player-characters. That's fine in many games, but for this one, I think a system more like Legendary Lives or The Whispering Vault would serve better, in which the NPCs are only listed with target values for attack and defense, and only players roll.

Some more minor mechanics questions:

i) For re-rolls, do you take the better of the two rolls or are you stuck with the second?

ii) Some of your text refers to tokens, which are apparently unnamed or throwaway opponents, "mooks" as they're often called. The text looks like it's referring to some primary explanation which isn't included.

Best, Ron

* If you're confused by this sentence, I am referencing some notoriously commonly-purchased, rarely-used equipment from the early days of Dungeons & Dragons.

Paolo D.

Thanks Ron! :-)

Ok, there's a lot to digest here. I'd prefer to not answer to all the topic at once, it could be too much to handle at the start.

Let's start from the first: clothes and equipment.

The reason I put these in my game, is because I wanted the saurids to look (and act) just like "people", at least in their everyday life aspects. People different by you and me, of course. People with fangs, claws, wings and maybe two elbows per arm :-) and so, even if they would struggle in a weird way (the "in a struggle, you can reroll if you show a physical feature" rule is here for this), they would farm, craft, pray, get dressed etc. in a quite human way.
This should help the players/GM in perceiving (and playing) the saurids like people and not like D&D monsters - because they have "human" needs (to wear clothes, to use tools, to sleep in a warm place etc.).

The "search for better equipment" thing, by the way, was there to encourage the player to search an interaction with the other overpowered saurids, and maybe a struggle with them, to play a situation based on the choise "Is it worth to fight these innocents, and maybe hurt them, to get this cool, powerful item that could help you in your quest for revenge? Is your suffering more important than their suffering?".
Answering this question through play, in different multiple fictional situations, is (at least in my intentions when I wrote this game) one of "the points" of playing Wings of Blood.

Also because this question should reiterate through multiple "fail cycles" of the character in the same isle.

A rapid example about my last sentence:

- Shining serpent arrives in his first island. His chosen step is to search for the Great Map, so he starts asking for it among the local saurids: they say that Green tail, one of Gorlon's lieutenants, has it.

- The local saurids also tells you that, in this island, there is a shrine with an old relic, a vest owned by a shaman, ancestor of many saurids here. Rumors tells that this vest is linked to the shaman's spirit. At this point, you don't need anything: your equipment spend cap is ok. So...

- ...you go straight to Green tail, you ask for the Great Map, and obviously he says "no way" and the struggle begins. You fight, you spend your physical features and your items to reroll and to get bonuses, maybe you take some wounds and, before gritting your teeth for the fourth, potentially fatal, time, you choose to escape and to try later.

- And now: your equipment spend cap is partially (or totally) consumed. The shaman's vest is still here, and now it's tempting you... Because it would be a great "Better object". It would serve greatly in helping your quest for revenge... But the local saurids won't just "give it to you".

- What will you do? Will you try to steal it? To cheat them? To fight them with brute force? Will you hurt these suffering saurids, will you steal away their beloved relic only to get a new chance to fight for your revenge? And if they fight you, will you kill them?

That's it.


About the minor mechanics questions (maybe we can get rid of them rapidly):

i) When re-rolling, you should be stuck with the second, at least this was my thought when I was writing it (because if you decide to re-roll, it should be because your first roll isn't enough)... But, as all the other "math" stuff of this resolution system, I'm not very sure of how it should work - it definitely need some playtest and maybe some statistic charts too.

ii) Yes, you got it right. Tokens are "mooks" and are no more than "characters not important enough". All the needed explaination should be there in the text, but maybe something got "lost in translation", I'll check it out.

About the order of action in a struggle: there is no "stated" order of action, it's free-and-clear, like in TSoY. The player/GM "shows" (= narrate) what his character does until each one is ok with what's on the table.

Paolo D.

Just a final note: in my previous post, I don't think I explained myself well about how much I agree with many, maybe even all, of your pointed issues (so again, thanks). Right now I'm working on some ways to make the situation(s?), the reward cycles and the reward system works.

I'm also trying to find a way to rebuild the equipment rules (mostly in term of color) in a way to empower, not to undercut, the "exciting foundation" and the premise of the game... I'll post it when you answered to my previous post :-)

Ron Edwards

Hi Paolo,

My response to your post is simple: Excellent! When looking at an entry which mixes great color with possibly-superficial setting and situational elements, it is difficult to tell how serious the author is. Your replies make it clear that you're serious, and that's all this game needs. With that knowledge, I don't think it's necessary to say much more than "go for it," and I don't expect you to incorporate anything from my posts except whatever seems helpful to you.

If there's anything specific that I wrote about, or any feature of the game you'd like more feedback about, please let me know.

I wish I could draw like Ed Heil or James V. West ... if I could, and when and if you publish your game, I'd put myself on an ongoing retainer, promising a sketch of anyone's character for minor payment.

Best, Ron

Paolo D.

Thanks Ron, that's very encouraging :-)

Quote from: Ron Edwards on February 13, 2011, 01:32:33 PM
I wish I could draw like Ed Heil or James V. West ... if I could, and when and if you publish your game, I'd put myself on an ongoing retainer, promising a sketch of anyone's character for minor payment.

Yes, the visual component of the characters is definitely very exciting... It makes me sad that (at least for now) I couldn't find any image in the internet with enough weirdness and badassary to be a good Saurid example :-)

Ok, I'm coming back later tonight or maybe even tomorrow with the material that I think needs some feedback.


Paolo D.

Ok, here's what I realized about equipment.

Given the point I made in my previous post (items, and getting better items, are needed because they are a way to confront the players with the "value" of their character's grief), it's true that cloths and equipment, as they are now, undercut the "coolness" of being a Saurid, in terms of character look (a certain kind of clothes could "hide" some of the weird Saurid physical feature) and in terms of ways to play the struggle (using an axe or a bow instead of your claw or your tail, would be pretty un-cool, at least in this kind of game).

So, I asked myself: is there a way to make items MORE Saurid-like? Is there a way to use equipment to empower the starting color, instead of undercutting it?

Let's go back to the setting for a while. We have a people of reptile humanoids. They are tough, they have big claws, sharp teeth, strong tails and thick scales. A Saurid is not a puny Homo Sapiens: evolution gave them everything they could ever need in their everyday life. They can plow the field with their claws, hunt the animals with their fangs and swim through the lake with their webbed feet. They don't need tools (or at least not in the sense we-humans intend a tool).

But each saurid is different. What about the ones who DON'T have big claws to plow their field? What about the ones who DON'T have sawed tails to cut the woods?

Well... They worship and respect their ancestors... They love them, they want to feel them near in their everyday life...

So: they could definitely use the body parts of their dead ancestors. The bones of a clawed, big arm to plow the field (and maybe to fight too), a scaled skin to sleep warm like in a bedroll, a skull (complete with crest) to impress your enemies, and so on.*

So here's the new equipment rule I thought: all items have to be made (totally or mostly) by dead saurids body parts (because the body parts ARE the tools, so there's no need for the saurids to craft them from nothing). At chargen, they have to be made of parts from your ancestors or from your dead dears.

And about clothes: saurids wear almost only short skirts, loinclothes, jewels and body paints. Leaders, shamans and other scholars/priests could wear vests and similar clothes, but it as to be founded in your death oath.

* I could seem to be weird to you, but in the real word some tribes drink the dust of their mummified ancestors, and some others keep close the mummified, restricted heads of their fallen warriors. Weird, yes, but not completely absurd.

Ron Edwards

That's cool!

But lose those damn loincloths, please. Naked saurids unite!!

Best, Ron

Paolo D.

Ok, I thought a lot on Ron's feedback, and here's the rest of the things that I produced about it.

First, there are new procedures and mechanics to enable the reward cycle I wanted.

Second, there are a lot of extra procedures and explainations about GM prep, mostly things that "I had in my mind" but that went lost in the way from my brain to my keyboard... This should help with the "situation" issue.

(here's a link to a google doc. I think it's too much for a post and I can't stand against the .doc to bbcode conversion... :-)
Wings of Blood v0.1 new rules ENG)

I didn't write it, but I think that WoB should be about all the characters against the same Nemesis. I still don't know if they should be "a group" moving together from island to island... I think I'd prefer a waveplay solution, like in TSoY / SS.

Ok, that's it. Would you like to give me some feedback about this new material?


Quote from: Ron Edwards on February 13, 2011, 08:04:59 PM
That's cool!

But lose those damn loincloths, please. Naked saurids unite!!

Best, Ron

Shake ya cloaca, baby!

Ron Edwards

Hi Paolo,

I'm trying hard to catch up with feedback threads for the other games, but I have your new file and I won't forget it.

Are you coming to InterNosCon? I am!

Best, Ron

Paolo D.

Ok thanks :-)

Yes, I'm totally coming to InterNosCon (maybe with a disturbing costume to :-D )

Ron Edwards

Hi Paolo,

I finally found the time to read the document. I am intrigued by the rules tying the oath to re-rolls, and I think that will be fun to playtest.

My biggest concern is with the scenario preparation steps, in that there is a lot of guessing going on. The GM is trying to attract or please or engage the players in a completely transitive way. It's almost like he's begging for them to "like" the material but has to guess what they'll like, with the implication that there exists some danger that they won't involve themselves.

Contrast this with the rules of Trollbabe, in which the blunt fact is that she is involved as far as the locals are concerned, and part of being a player in Trollbabe is to accept that without any ambiguity regardless of how you want to play your character's attitude. Furthermore, the Trollbabe GM is not trying to please or hook the players; instead, he makes a situation which obeys the criteria in the rules, and creates the details in a way which he likes.

Dogs in the Vineyard is identical to Trollbabe in this regard - notice, for example, that nothing in the rules suggests trying to please or specifically attract the players when building a town. Just build the town according to the rules, and make sure the crime pushes your own buttons, and that will work fine.

Or contrast it with the rules in Sorcerer & Sword (sadly not available in Italian), in which the GM identifies a location and some basic aspects of the situation and a couple of important people there, and then the players can situate their characters in that location however they want, up to and including having been in that location and having become an important personage there already. In other words, the characters don't merely "arrive."

Either of those works quite well and avoids the issue of the GM being in the position of supplicating the players to be interested.

I'm also a little bit confused in that I can't tell what's supposed to be better for my character: making the locals suffer in some way that advantages me, or helping them. Are both supposed to be advantageous, but in different ways? Maybe the only problem is that I need to read it again, but at the moment, this seems to be both interesting and confusing.

Best, Ron

Paolo D.

QuoteI'm also a little bit confused in that I can't tell what's supposed to be better for my character: making the locals suffer in some way that advantages me, or helping them. Are both supposed to be advantageous, but in different ways? Maybe the only problem is that I need to read it again, but at the moment, this seems to be both interesting and confusing.

Actually, this is one of "the points" of playing. ;-)

Technically, you might want to try to help the locals AND to fullfill your step. This would give you +1 to both Rage and Heart at the end of the chapter, and should definitely be the most advantageous.

BUT, there are two things in the middle:

1) Will you really feel to help these locals? Ok, they are suffering like you, but they could be mean, and/or they could be helping the main antagonist.

2) Will you really be able to help the locals? Going into struggles could be very resource-draining, and making them suffer (or stealing some items) is a good way to gain new resources - after some struggles, you should need them to struggle for your chosen step and/or to take a stance against the main antagonist.

Ultimately, you could have to choose between flying away without fulfilling your chosen step (after gaining a lot of wounds and draining your death oath/equipment bonuses), or make the locals suffer (to gain new bonuses).

You could even start directly in making the locals suffer. But there are other playing characters with you, and they could not be ok with that.

...however, at this point, I don't know if I still need the +1/-1 to the Motivations at the end of the chapters, now that I have the new phrases in the death oath... I'll think about it after trying it in the playtest.

About GM prep:

after playing some bang-based games like PTA, SS, TQB/The Pool and stuff, I noticed that sometimes the players can "put a flag without any flag at all". Sometimes they would like to see in play something, or they are excited about something, but without having any written flag about it on their character sheet.

So, I wanted to write prep rules that should work on their own (like the guidelines for the towns in DitV), but also to tell the GM "Hey, if the players are engaged in something but they don't have a feature on their sheet about it (a flag), keep that in mind too when you prep an island".

Paolo D.

...however, I realize now that maybe you was talking of the questions about GM prep (I wrote the last sentence of my last post talking about the "Pull the right strings" part, not the "GM prep questions" part).

At this regard, I think you could be right. My intention when I wrote the prep questions was definitely to do something like that:

Quote from: Ron Edwards on February 17, 2011, 05:29:16 AM
Furthermore, the Trollbabe GM is not trying to please or hook the players; instead, he makes a situation which obeys the criteria in the rules, and creates the details in a way which he likes.

And you are right, the GM shouldn't guess how to make an interesting island - the questions should be here to do this without any guessing. I think I know how to fix it, I'll come back when I have a new pdf.