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Author Topic: [Moral Dawn] Ronnies feedback  (Read 1604 times)
Ron Edwards
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« on: February 13, 2011, 06:44:05 PM »

Moral Dawn by Eigil Rischel presents the flip side of They Became Flesh, both in concept (humans who are maybe angels) and in personal crisis (there is no climactic end-state). It wins a Ronny, but at the cost of getting raked through the coals of every perfervid rant I've ever delivered concerning Narrativist play.

Formal stuff first. At first, I was thinking that the morning/dawn term looked weak, as it seems to apply to a single flashy rules technique. But then I thought again: the characters are in the "dark night of the soul," and it's not the blazing combo of wing-power that is the real dawn for them, it's whether they will or will not experience an awakening of their own moral path. Or then I looked again at the title and said "duh." I really like the story arc being entirely up to play itself, and not defined by external phenomena (catching the bad guy, stopping the Dark Forces, et cetera) but only by the character's own fate ... up to and including continued uncertainty. Including that latter possibility is quite awesome.

This is all pure Marvel, too, which for my age group is a good thing. It leads me to see lots of meat in having wings with conflicting philosophies. Not grossly contradictory, but at least potentially troublesome in certain situations, and perhaps hard to predict in these terms too. Toward that end, I found myself favoring character concepts in which all seven wings have distinct philosophies, with no double-dipping, without premeditation concerning conflicts, trusting that the simple fact of difference would likely lead to the discovery of practical distinctions through play itself.

I hope I'm expressing myself well with that. Let me see ... OK, thinking in terms of one's character's wings' philosophies, it seems to me as if the primary play-issue is how the current array plays out in moral terms (for moral read "ethical" if the term bugs you). If you do stuff with a wing which goes against its philosophy, it accumulates Doubt. As written, carrying Doubt reduces one's effectiveness, but you can get enough of it to transform the wing's philosophy into something else. Although mechanically impairing, Doubt is a good thing in terms of fictional content - it means your character is changing, including the possibility of restoring the original convictions as well as altering them.

I think there's a nice contrast between the Dawn action - firing off all one's wings at once - which favors unanimous philosophical certainty, and the overall dawn or morning of the character's own dramatic arc.

So, about the coals and the raking. Narrativist play, or Story Now play, is observably characterized by situations which raise engaging ethical, moral, social, and personal questions, and the openness of the play process toward the resolution of these situations in the fiction. By openness, I mean that nobody has a fixed goal or expectation for how the situations will turn out, or how any given character is going to emerge from the experience. A GM in such play, when present, may have distinct tasks, but is not the story authority as prescribed by many game texts.

For clarity's sake: (i) Narrativist play is not defined by making a story. Play expressing any Creative Agenda can make a story. It merely so happens that Narrativist play is nigh assured of doing so. (ii) Back-story prep and content are just as valid techniques here as with any other sort of play. Narrativism does not mean "making it all up as we go along," or allowing anyone and everyone to alter primary fictional content at will. (iii) Familiar system features such as dice rolls and attribute scores are just as valid or invalid for Narrativist play as for any other kind, on a case by case basis.

So all of the following is based on my presumption that the above notions are suitable and maximally productive for developing Moral Dawn as design and as text.

1. The GM talk needs re-considering. "Create a story for the players to immerse themselves" is a red flag. It's totally at odds with your stated arc and purpose. If the GM creates the story, he must literally manage and impose the outcomes of meaningful conflicts and scenes. If the players do in fact make decisions for their characters (as opposed to pretending they do), then the story is created without such outcome management. Game texts are historically littered with some form of babble about this, combining "the GM creates the story" with "the players make the characters' decisions" in the same sentence. It's pure hairy ass.

I have given it the jargon name of The Impossible Thing Before Breakfast and have written about it in some detail over the years. I'm saying, you have to choose. Either some one person during play has the authority over how the story "goes," such that character decisions occur only in an already-limited framework, or how the story goes is an emergent phenomenon of what the characters do based on individual choices. There is no middle ground or blending of these concepts. If you favor the latter, then the GM (if present, as in Moral Dawn) is simply not the same kind of participant as the GM in play which favors the former.

2. As I see it, the whole idea strongly favors supers combat situations, whether against other tough guys, against groups of normal people, and against institutional force. But even if we weren't talking about combat, or rather, with or without combat, the situations of play must be rich in human concerns. In other words, full of opportunities to decide that the current array of philosophies represented by one's wings is not up to the task of dealing with this situation, and thus to do things which start building up Doubt. This issue is composed of two things.

i) What adversity do characters face? And here I mean the adversity that matters, not minor colorful moments or setups. At present, I the text runs into the same non-solution as Wings of Blood - just throwing guys to fight at them. Whereas given the unnamed moments during the first session of play, when character creation may be thought of as not quite complete, there is already so much to work with. All the GM has to do is ask, "What do you do?" * And from there, all the game mechanics are there to proceed without further hassle.

For example, let's take me personally a hypothetical example for what I someone would do with a player-character. You're the GM, you say, "What do you do?" Well ... (1) Destroy every military recruiting center in a major American city, down to the ground in a single night; (2) bust Bradley Manning out of jail; (3) I'm thinking, I'm thinking, so much to choose from ... And so the GM suddenly has everything imaginable to work with in terms of obstacles, hassles, various concerned NPCs, and whatever. All you need to do as GM is to consider what they must face given what they want to do - and don't wimp out! NPC building and back-stories to situations are important to be sure, but not as bread-crumbs and stepping-stones toward pre-fixed endings

ii) How do player-characters relate to one another? Without trying to cast your net all across all the way people might want to play, I'm asking specifically about what you see player-characters doing with and/or to one another from the outset, through crisis situations, and afterwards. Are they a team? Are they individually spread across individual and disconnected situations? Are they really supposed to be a team with a cosmetic pretense that their individual situations are distinct? Or is the default interaction between any two player-characters a fight? If so, is that fight some kind of buddy-story setup for teaming up against a real enemy, or is it itself a significant, possibly fatal story climax?

All of those are meant to help prompt what the text badly needs as well: some notion of genuine fictional situations that you envision for play. "Well, anything I guess" is not an answer for that. Unless I get some idea of the options, at the very least, I can't play, no matter how detailed my character's back-story is, or how carefully designed the resolution rules might be. (If this leads anyone reading to say, wait a minute, that would mean Ron would say most of the game books on my shelf do not actually tell anyone the first fucking clue about actually how to play, you're right.)

Also, a quick question: character creation says two steps; what's the second? Or is that an artifact, or is it answered in the text without a "Second" introduction?

And also some quick enthusing: having seven wings is very cool, and I don't mind the rough rules concept about the scope of their effects and power - I bet it's easier and more reliable in practice than it might look at first.

3. As with quite a few of the Ronnies entries this time around, you're using a hack of the Burning Wheel system (actually originally appeared in Maelstrom). To summarize: a number defines how many d6 you roll; half of the faces are successes, and you count how many; compare that number to some set number of required successes (Obstacle in BW) to see if you succeed. Various modifiers increase or reduce dice, or raise or lower Obstacle.

Not to cut things too neatly: this system is so savagely prone to whiffing, that is, gratuitious failure, that it doesn't work unless you have some kind of secondary modification system that's deeply tied into the role-playing and many aspects of the character sheet. The various versions of BW are defined by the way they specify their respective options for doing this.

The unfortunate thing is that so many systems are copying BW, or copying the copies, that they're landing players with a dice mechanic that will do nothing but fail all the live-long day. And the worst culprit in this situation is Obstacle. My call is: Obstacle is the first thing that needs to go right out the window when hacking Burning Wheel. If you must put it back in, make sure it is very specific, very well understood, and not a default modifier.

Another issue we can discuss later if you want concerns difficulty mechanics, most of which practice the cursed "double hose" on players, but that can wait.

4. Doubt

i) Should Doubt decrease wing effectiveness at all? It seems unnecessarily aversive, putting brakes what is conceivably the whole point of play, to throw the philosophical coherence (if any) among one's wings into disarray. And as a minor question, assuming that the current penalty system is retained, do Doubt penalties apply to their wings in a Dawn action?

ii) It seems to me that the whole family of secondary Doubt effects, i.e. how much it goes up and down at any given time, is kind of fiddly. My thinking is that it would be OK to remove dice from Doubt's effects. Or maybe, anyway. Perhaps something randomized enough to give the effect an existential edge, but not as cumbersome. We should probably talk about a whole variety of things like Humanity in Sorcerer, the Devil in Dust Devils, and Fallout in Dogs in the Vineyard.

Eigil, what are your thoughts on all this? Am I making any sense, or does this seem like some kind of moon-language? Is it possible you would like to go the other way entirely, and have the story-product of play be in the capable hands of a ("the") GM? Because I have some advice on making that work too. I chose the direction that I personally prefer, especially since it seems consistent with your primary advice in the text, but I don't to force that direction upon you. All my "must" and "have to" and similar language should be read with that in mind.

Best, Ron
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Devon Oratz
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« Reply #1 on: February 14, 2011, 11:40:35 AM »

This was an interesting writeup and I am still working through it. Moral Dawn sounds like a very interesting game, let me check it out and give some thoughts.

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3. As with quite a few of the Ronnies entries this time around, you're using a hack of the Burning Wheel system (actually originally appeared in Maelstrom). To summarize: a number defines how many d6 you roll; half of the faces are successes, and you count how many; compare that number to some set number of required successes (Obstacle in BW) to see if you succeed. Various modifiers increase or reduce dice, or raise or lower Obstacle.

Just because my game is one of the "quite a few" you mentioned that uses almost exactly the system you just described I wanted to mention that I have never actually played or even read Burning Wheel (or even heard of Maelstrom). In my case if I was hacking anything, it was Shadowrun.

***

More about Moral Dawn (and if my feedback should be going in a separate thread instead, just let me know):

If I lapse into using "you" in the following ramble, that you refers to Eigil Rischel, the game's creator. Well, I mean when it isn't obviously just the general you, i.e. "one".

I immediately love the concept/hook and it's in fact a great inversion of Anathema (Ron mentioned it being an inversion of They Became Flesh). In this game, you are given these powers you don't understand the origins of and told to "do Good"--in Anathema, replace "do Good" with "kill 4 billion people".

Is the game called Moral Dawn or THE Moral Dawn? This seems important for some reason. Title says one thing, first line of text says another.

Quote
Not to cut things too neatly: this system is so savagely prone to whiffing, that is, gratuitious failure, that it doesn't work unless you have some kind of secondary modification system that's deeply tied into the role-playing and many aspects of the character sheet. The various versions of BW are defined by the way they specify their respective options for doing this.

This is especially true in Moral Dawn because actually only ONE THIRD of the faces are successes. And it doesn't seem like people will regularly be tossing around nice fat dice pools of 6-15 dice like they are in Shadowrun.

Quote
Power&Versatility: Each wing can be used for specific things. The more different things it can
do, the more Versatile it is, but the less power it has. Each Wing should be reviewed by the GM,
but use the following guideline when designing them: A Wing that could be used for anything
would have power 0. Every time you halve versatility(say, to include only mental actions), you
increase power by two.(yes, that is a very, very, rough guideline)

I am not sure if "that sort of person" (he said, haughtily) would be interested in your game, but have you given a thought to just how much havoc a power-gamer could wreak with a system this fuzzily defined? Leaving aside the nebulous concerns of Balance, just on a Clarity level this really needs some more structure. For instance, the example of the flaming sword that can only be used in melee combat...how many limitations to versatility is that? I count three but I could see arguments made for two or four. It is physical (+2 Power), only usable for harming others (+2 Power), works only in melee combat (+2 Power), deals only fire damage (+2 Power?), etc.

What I'd REALLY like more clarification on, though, is the available philosophies. I only saw one example listed, and it was functionally the mindset of Rorschach from Watchmen. Okay, cool, I can dig that. But more examples, definitely, would be good. At least seven I would say. 

Likewise, what is the deal with duplicate wings? What if I want two identical wings for twice the uses of the flaming sword ability? Or one wing that provides the flaming sword of absolute justice and another one that provides the flaming sword of infinite mercy? Okay, bad example, but you know what I mean.

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Wings may be used seven times a day. They are readied again at dawn.

Should that read *each* wing may be used seven times a day?

Quote
Doubt Mechanics

I'm liking the use of seven as an arc number, but I am again confused. By my reading, by the time that all but the least versatile wings have been used for a handful of "morally questionable" actions, they become completely useless for quite a while before they have a crisis of ideology.

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*character sheet*'

Man it's awesome that you actually included one of these. First game I've seen to have one, including mine. I think I only have one more question:

Is it safe to assume that the wings allow the characters to fly without one or more of them being specifically consecrated to that purpose?
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: February 16, 2011, 12:14:37 PM »

Hey Devon,

You're right that Shadowrun is probably the better "family name" title for this technique. I keep referencing Burning Wheel because I'm thinking mainly about independent games which contrast with Vampire/Storyteller.* In BW, the success values per die are fixed, not variant by particular skill as in Vampire/Storyteller or, for those who are interested, The Riddle of Steel. But Shadowrun also (or originally) uses a fixed success value, 5's and 6's. At least in the 4th edition; I can't remember how earlier editions of Shadowrun did this.

An interesting independent view: in this Life and Times of a Philippine Gamer entry, the author notes that he wouldn't apply thresholds higher than 1, instead relying on the other "end" of the dice as the difficulty feature.

Best, Ron

* Which is a total mess because not only do you have penalties and bonuses on the success range per die, but also on the number of dice, and then you add on threshold levels established by opposing die rolls too. Gah.
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Eigil Rischel
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« Reply #3 on: February 22, 2011, 08:32:53 AM »

Hey guys.

Thanks for all the feedback. I really appreciate it.

I'm kind of pressed for time right at the moment, so i'll have to post a more complete response later, but for now: I agree with most of what you say, all the problems you've pointed out, etc.

I've been looking at the rules, and i think i have an idea on how to both fix the problem with the GM's role, and probably the Obstacle issue as well. Simplified, the players have Goals, each goal has a Value that determines the character's commitment to the goal, the GM draws dice from a 'pool' determined by the Value, rolling these dice against the player's. As you can see, it's very rough at the moment, but i'll hopefully have something functional soon. I'm hoping it will give this game some structure where it's needed most.

Also, Devon, it's 'Moral Dawn'. That was not very clear. I decided to go with that, because 'The' would imply a singular Dawn, and, well, Dawns will hopefully be happening more than once.
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