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Author Topic: [Anathema] Ronnies feedback  (Read 5309 times)
Ron Edwards
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« on: February 16, 2011, 01:09:19 PM »

Anathema by Devon Oratz wins a Ronny! This one gets the Sheer Guts award for this round, which given some of the other entries, is really saying something. I kind of like the idea of someone questioning Death at the end of a session of Danse Macabre, and Death says, "What, didn't you read Anathema?" With Death's Head last time, and The Secret Lives of Serial Killers and Anathema this time - what was that J. G. Ballard title ... yes, "The Atrocity Exhibition." Exactly. I'll also cop to the fact that the sheer audacity of playing genocidal maniacs while admitting we're doing it went a long way toward the award. Sure, the Balance admits to no responsibility and gets to be all Zen-like and greater-good about it, but no such excuses will ultimately hold for the Shrouds.

Still, gothy scary booga booga ... haven't we been here before? Thankfully, no - Anathema is definitely not a White Wolf clone, and in fact, strikes me as an anti-White Wolf design with a particularly powerful punch. I tell you what makes the difference for me: the long-term play but with thematic ending standards for characters. You're pretty clear about this in the text - you don't want pretension and flouncing around, you want Premise (in my jargon) and you want it raw.

My plan is that I'm really going to take this at your word and give you the business about it. What I have in mind is to strip away the last clinging, smelly birth-membranes of White Wolf from your design. It seems clear to me that you're almost out of them all by yourself, based on exactly what I just wrote about above, but let's get the rest of the way.

Two other things before I go on
1. Do you want me to go into why I think the term "angel" is appropriate? This has nothing to do with anything in the game text or how it might be written; it's a pure geekoid terms-issue for me. So if you don't want to get into that, that's no big deal and we can stay with talking about the game. But if you're interested, I can tell you why.

2. There is one thing I have to deal with up-front. I may be mis-reading you, but I'm getting the impression that comments about previous systems and your system are bugging you, or at least you feel the need to defend yourself against them. Therefore, speaking only for my own posts, I want to clarify what I mean - and don't mean - by mentioning other games in reference to your or anyone's game mechanics.

When I say, "Your mechanic X is like the thing in that game from 15 years ago," I do not mean that you knew that game, took that mechanic, and popped it into your game. Nor do I mean that you even encountered that game and incorporated it as knowledge and more recently applied that knowledge. As it happens I don't think either of these is a bad thing anyway, but still, it's not what I mean. What I mean is that RPGs exhibit remarkably distinct families of techniques and techniques combinations, and design ranges from staying right smack in the comfort zone of an established family, all the way to founding a whole new zone. I find it valuable to talk in these terms, saying things like "Your mechanic X comes from the thing in that game from 15 years ago," and although the "comes from" part may look like "you did this, you did that" in the sense of where you got the idea, that's strictly an artifact of our existing vocabulary for these things. I'm saying that the thing entered the design space, culturally speaking, at that time. Whether you invented it yourself out of your own experiences, or whether you learned it from that very game, or whether you acquired it indirectly through games that are in that same techniques-family, isn't what I'm after. Nor is any such comment supposed to diminish or subordinate your design, or you as a designer, relative to others, to the contrary actually.

Here's an example: Vindication. From the text,

Quote
A GM should never give a point of Will to a PC for Vindication unless the entire gaming group - including the GM, but he is not the final authority on this - seems to feel that the character genuinely Vindicated their nature. This should not be something that players are fudging just to get more points: it is an important part of the game.

When I say, "This technique entered RPG texts with my rules for gaining and losing Humanity in Sorcerer (1996/2001) and found very deep expression in the Sincerity die in My Life with Master (2003)," this is not saying that you knew these games, or if you did, took the Vindication rule from them (again, which would itself be no bad thing just to keep that point clear). It means that you are designing at least in part in a similar creative space as I did and Paul did, and that the success of the technique in these games speaks well for the potential success of Vindication in Anathema. It also means that your game has, for lack of a better word, kin which at least for some, is a good thing: it helps them to understand that they are not alone in a howling wilderness of stereotyped fanboys of poorly-designed games which score high merely in terms of identity politics; and it helps orient them in terms of what other techniques may be available for comparison and possible use.

OK, I said my piece about that, and so, onwards.

3. I am psyched about my character!

Combat 3, Perception 2, Manipulation 2, Resistance 3
Died by suicide, therefore primary Dominion is Despair; one of the Kindly
Despair 3, War 2, Misfortune 2, Apathy 1
Time since death: 9 minutes ago
Memory fragments: a happy occurrence, a job, an important lover, a child or pet, a sibling or close friend
Anathema 0, Will 10

The above are merely the mechanics. I have a pretty good idea about the person and the story, which specifies the fragments and kind of ties it all together, not included here.

Quick question: I rolled 6 twice for my memory fragments - does this mean I just move on to the next roll (as I did, hence five fragments total), or does it mean I re-roll that time until I get a new value (hence I would have six different fragments total)?

Thinking about what the character is like and how things may go, I drew this diagram. The bottom part, Rebellion, is the trickiest. With Vindication, you do it or you don't, so that's easy, but with Rebellion, if you do it, then Dissolution threatens, and if you abstain, then you start losing Will. The non-rebellious, obedient Shroud kills and kills preferred victims as much as possible along with avoided ones (non-avoided in this case), perhaps failing to outstrip Will Death, or perhaps one day achieving Satori; the rebellious Shroud keeps Will high but will sooner or later find the Furies breathing down its neck. The text calls it a Bang or a Whimper (with the Whimper being Satori, i think); it reminds me of the catch-phrase from Jared Sorensen's Schism: will you die on your feet or on your knees? Huh! - ultimately, the question faced by the Shroud is the same one faced by every single one of its victims.

The Kindly are in a really tough spot: for them, killing Avoided Victims and abstaining from Rebellion are practically synonymous, which I suppose hits them with a double whammy -2 Will; and since they don't have Preferred Victims, they basically have to kill their way through hordes of "anyone else" in order to increase Will; and their Rebellion is essentially a flat refusal to kill. The more I look the three types over, the more I like how distinctive their moral dilemmas are.

A game you might like with some similarities, although by no means the same specific ethical crisis, is one of my historical favorites, The Whispering Vault.

GM stuff
I think the current text displays way too much GM micro-management! This is a system which really throws ethical crisis into the players' laps, to be expressed in striking form with extremely visual, extremely powerful characters, regarding an issue of great weight. I think that the whole "story guy" role of the GM can simply slide away, letting this particular group's story emerge from stated actions, existing mechanics, and flat-out consequences without a guiding hand to smooth, pace, or manage it in any way.

The list of such things includes ...

i) Setting difficulty levels with multiple dials, as discussed above
ii) GM permission for gaining Will for killing a preferred victim
iii) forcing the choice between gaining Will and risking Dissolution (I mean, the choice is already there ...)
iv) capping Will changes per unit play time

So what do I think the Anathema GM should do? Well, it has a lot to do with the games Sorcerer, Dust Devils, and Dogs in the Vineyard - the GM makes up and plays highly active, stressed NPCs, in situations which are full of ethical tension and unstable relationships. Also, less centrally, opens and closes scenes, accelerates in-game time when nothing important is happening, and other logistic matters. We can talk more about this if you want.

Meaty meat
The above point is related to my notions about one kind of desirable, possibly nigh-inevitable conflict in playing Anathema: genuine, consequential, and emotionally riveting conflicts between the player-characters. I say, "I kill this guy," and you say, "The hell you will." Or you say, "I kill all of them," and I say, "The hell you will." I am not talking about posturing and being all thespian about you being Kindly and me being Violent; I'm talking about story right here and now, when the players feel that each character simply will not stand for what the other wants, and is willing to do anything about it. Like Vindication, this isn't something one artifically inserts into play. Such scenes may in fact be a key part of Satori and, obviously, Dissolution.

Another major content-point concerns the Furies, and what seems to me to be a kind of trap-door that opens under the otherwise flawless ending-structure of the game. Beating the Furies? Becoming kind of an anti-Balance super-squad or something like that? It reads to me like a gamer-out, a "Hey, you can keep playing forever if you can do this" option, instead the raw truth of every other orienting text in the game: you are going down, forever, and the question is how - and what that will mean. As I see it, the Furies may do better to be like Satori - when the truly appropriate time comes, they show up and kill the character, full stop.

Resolution and related mechanics
i) You mentioned that you were interested in my comments about difficulty levels (thresholds) vs. difficulty modifiers in the Air Patrol thread, so let's look at the way you did it here. The Anathema variant is only a little messy, and the question is whether that's productive (i.e. fun not fiddly). So, dice number varies according to Ability, 50% success per die, with four modifiers. They are: spending Anathema increases the number of dice (Killer Competence), spending Will re-rolls all failed dice, the GM can decree more or less dice to roll, and the GM can bump the die success value anywhere from 2-6 to 6 only.

I suppose it's not surprising to you that I think removing the final modifier is a good idea. I think it simply spins an additional dial in the mechanics without adding content to the concept of immediate, situational difficulty. I'm not really sold on the first GM modifier as written either; as I see it, the best application might be for the GM to add or subtract dice only from his own rolls to express situational difficulty, getting exactly the same effect of harder/easier while sparing the player all the hassling about what he gets to roll this time and how to read it.

To go the other way, and to be quite radical, it's possible to eliminate all GM dice rolling entirely and simply set Thresholds for everything, hitting NPCs and defending vs. them included, and that's the sole modifier from that side of the table, full stop.

ii) Of the three modifiers, Anathema units seem most significant here. I'm thinking in terms of playing the above character, or maybe any character: absent specific ethical concerns of the moment, I plan to kill frequently, if not indiscriminately I suppose, and keep Anathema high enough that I can pretty much always double my Ability dice. As long as Anathema is below 20 or so, and assuming that a good fun scene calls for multiple rolls, I can see how a certain economy might set in, as I might not be able to kill my way up high enough fast enough and will have to pick and choose when I "Anathemize" my rolls. How about above that? It doesn't seem unlikely that I might have my character kill dozens, if not hundreds, of victims at once when I can. Is it part of the vision of the game that I might have 100 or 200 Anathema going? I'm not saying that's bad, not at all - I'm only curious to see if I'm interpreting correctly.

ii) I am not convinced by the text's claim that the game doesn't feature combat much. It seems to me it definitely would, even without the "dust'em up" bad guys you provide later in the rules. But rare or common, the key feature of complicated conflict ("combat" most often) for me is the ordering of announced actions and outcomes. I think the current traditional, fully random, stop-motion initiative system is inadequate for the passion-driven, intensely personal aspects of combat in this game. I am thinking about all sorts of alternatives: the Action Point system in my proto-game Mongrel, for instance, seems well suited; or some kind of all-at-once rolling and retroactive ordering along the lines of Zero and Sorcerer, or more complex, In a Wicked Age.

4. This may sound very strange, but I think perception, as a character ability or action, does not rate a whole Ability of its own for this game. The single thing it specifically does concerns memory, and that function can be given some kind of roll unique to itself rather than being a character Ability. Otherwise it's the same-old, same-old "notice things" deal which is remarkably non-functional in most role-playing. Now, for all I know, you have some kind of nigh-unique skill or set of experiences with perception rolls that is incredibly fun, and if so, let me know what it is, and I'll drop the subject. But instead, if like me, you have struggled with getting things to happen even when perception rolls aren't made, or found scenes jammed up by who-notices-whom instead of getting to the point, and, if like me, you have often simply bypassed the whole thing and flatly said who notices whom, then maybe Perception can simply be jettisoned.

Whew! That was a damned hard feedback post to write, as much as I enjoyed writing each bit individually. This game is kind of the opposite of Murder: A Game About Crows, in which all the instructions are original and finely tuned to what the game is about, but I could make neither head nor tail of what exactly to do at any single moment of play (Icomments coming up soon). Whereas I could play Anathema right now, hands down, line up and let me GM you baby ... but the instructions have those last membranes on them.

Devon, let me know what you think. And congratulations - this thing, man, is really something.

Best, Ron
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Devon Oratz
Member

Posts: 75


« Reply #1 on: February 16, 2011, 03:00:48 PM »

Wow, that is some feedback, alright. : )

My response is going to be multi-part, sorry. If you are feeling like it, you can edit all of my posts together into one giant post. Or not. But I have awful impulse control when it comes to

Quote
1. Do you want me to go into why I think the term "angel" is appropriate? This has nothing to do with anything in the game text or how it might be written; it's a pure geekoid terms-issue for me. So if you don't want to get into that, that's no big deal and we can stay with talking about the game. But if you're interested, I can tell you why.

I'll admit it, I'm curious. Why is the term angel appropriate? (I felt torn about using it myself. And I do know...a bit about angels as well.)

Quote
2. There is one thing I have to deal with up-front. I may be mis-reading you, but I'm getting the impression that comments about previous systems and your system are bugging you, or at least you feel the need to defend yourself against them. Therefore, speaking only for my own posts, I want to clarify what I mean - and don't mean - by mentioning other games in reference to your or anyone's game mechanics.


When I say, "Your mechanic X is like the thing in that game from 15 years ago," I do not mean that you knew that game, took that mechanic, and popped it into your game. Nor do I mean that you even encountered that game and incorporated it as knowledge and more recently applied that knowledge. As it happens I don't think either of these is a bad thing anyway, but still, it's not what I mean. What I mean is that RPGs exhibit remarkably distinct families of techniques and techniques combinations, and design ranges from staying right smack in the comfort zone of an established family, all the way to founding a whole new zone. I find it valuable to talk in these terms, saying things like "Your mechanic X comes from the thing in that game from 15 years ago," and although the "comes from" part may look like "you did this, you did that" in the sense of where you got the idea, that's strictly an artifact of our existing vocabulary for these things. I'm saying that the thing entered the design space, culturally speaking, at that time. Whether you invented it yourself out of your own experiences, or whether you learned it from that very game, or whether you acquired it indirectly through games that are in that same techniques-family, isn't what I'm after. Nor is any such comment supposed to diminish or subordinate your design, or you as a designer, relative to others, to the contrary actually.

I totally get where you are coming from. I think it is not entirely defensiveness on my part, but a kind of finicky factual accuracy that causes me to pipe up whenever my mechanics' similarity to mechanic x/y is even tangentially mentioned. To be honest, I'm not even DEFENDING myself when I say "I didn't rip off x, I ripped off y". This is something I do whenever ANYONE says that anything was influenced by anything else. It's not even limited to my own work. I just feel that order of precedence is important. If anyone else mistakes who or what ripped off what, I will try to refrain the urge to open one of my six mouths and sing the song that ends the world. 

Anyway, I get you loud and clear.
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Devon Oratz
Member

Posts: 75


« Reply #2 on: February 16, 2011, 03:02:00 PM »

The end of the above trail-off should read "...when it comes to not responding piecemeal at the same speed I am thinking". No, sadly I did not do that on purpose, but illustrative example nonetheless.
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Devon Oratz
Member

Posts: 75


« Reply #3 on: February 16, 2011, 03:31:47 PM »

Quote from: 'Ron'
Combat 3, Perception 2, Manipulation 2, Resistance 3
Died by suicide, therefore primary Dominion is Despair; one of the Kindly
Despair 3, War 2, Misfortune 2, Apathy 1
Time since death: 9 minutes ago
Memory fragments: a happy occurrence, a job, an important lover, a child or pet, a sibling or close friend
Anathema 0, Will 10

* You should have six more points of Abilities. I think you may have missed the second paragraph of Page 9, which reads:

Quote from: 'Anathema'
In this same moment, the player can distribute 6 additional Ability Points between their Shroud‘s Combat, Perception, Manipulation, and Resistance, as the Shroud‘s Abilities are more formidable than those of its Husk. These points can increase any of these Abilities above 5, however each point of Ability score above the fifth costs two Ability Points.

One thing I'd like to add is a character creation flow chart to make these crucial six extra points harder to miss. Good idea. Bad idea?

Also, I think you meant *Atrophy and not *Apathy, although the idea of being able to "Apathy" someone to death is, in a word, awesome. : )

* Additionally, as a suicide, your starting Will is only 7! Page 11, first paragraph under Table 2, last sentence, italics.

Quote from: 'Anathema'
In terms of their formidable supernatural powers, Shrouds that have newly returned are as weak as kittens. A ?new? Shroud begins with Anathema 0, Will 10, and the Abilities and Dominions discussed above. Shrouds who have Despair as their primary Dominion only start with Will 7.

I don't blame you for missing it. These probably aren't the most organized rules ever (writing a game in 24 hrs. does that) and you have a lot of games on your mind.

Quote from: 'Ron'
Quick question: I rolled 6 twice for my memory fragments - does this mean I just move on to the next roll (as I did, hence five fragments total), or does it mean I re-roll that time until I get a new value (hence I would have six different fragments total)?

I am going to make myself answer any mechanical design question you come up with under the assumption it is functional and not rhetorical because anything that is not perfectly clear should be made so ASAP.   

Good question (although it took me a while to puzzle out what you meant. It means you remember ANOTHER specimen of that type of memory. Example: another, different happy occurrence. The obvious exception would be 12 (your death) in which case you should roll again. I will add this in the next time I work on the game. Making a note to self now.

Quote from: 'Ron'
Thinking about what the character is like and how things may go, I drew this diagram. The bottom part, Rebellion, is the trickiest. With Vindication, you do it or you don't, so that's easy, but with Rebellion, if you do it, then Dissolution threatens, and if you abstain, then you start losing Will. The non-rebellious, obedient Shroud kills and kills preferred victims as much as possible along with avoided ones (non-avoided in this case), perhaps failing to outstrip Will Death, or perhaps one day achieving Satori; the rebellious Shroud keeps Will high but will sooner or later find the Furies breathing down its neck. The text calls it a Bang or a Whimper (with the Whimper being Satori, i think); it reminds me of the catch-phrase from Jared Sorensen's Schism: will you die on your feet or on your knees? Huh! - ultimately, the question faced by the Shroud is the same one faced by every single one of its victims.

That diagram is the best thing ever. I want to paste it on walls everywhere with absolutely no context.

Actually, as I was writing it, I intended for Satori to be the bang, which is actually an unusually positive and naive viewpoint for me. In hindsight, I am glad I left which was which unspecified. I could see strong arguments for both. Also, all good observations.

Quote from: 'Ron'
I think the current text displays way too much GM micro-management! This is a system which really throws ethical crisis into the players' laps, to be expressed in striking form with extremely visual, extremely powerful characters, regarding an issue of great weight. I think that the whole "story guy" role of the GM can simply slide away, letting this particular group's story emerge from stated actions, existing mechanics, and flat-out consequences without a guiding hand to smooth, pace, or manage it in any way.

i) Setting difficulty levels with multiple dials, as discussed above
ii) GM permission for gaining Will for killing a preferred victim
iii) forcing the choice between gaining Will and risking Dissolution (I mean, the choice is already there ...)
iv) capping Will changes per unit play time

So what do I think the Anathema GM should do? Well, it has a lot to do with the games Sorcerer, Dust Devils, and Dogs in the Vineyard - the GM makes up and plays highly active, stressed NPCs, in situations which are full of ethical tension and unstable relationships. Also, less centrally, opens and closes scenes, accelerates in-game time when nothing important is happening, and other logistic matters. We can talk more about this if you want.

I am firmly in the traditionalist camp as far as my views on GMing go and that will probably color my response. With that said: could you explain 1 a bit more? I'm not sure I know what you mean.

I can agree that 2 is extraneous, especially since 2 is just a subset of 4. I think that 4 is important because someone should have a handle on the throttle just so the game doesn't burn out in a single session. (I understand that single session games are not *weird* here, but Anathema simply isn't meant to be one.) I think a GM can make situational decisions that the mechanics can't. For instance, if a Lost Shroud who really hates the KKK blows up a Klan meeting, they do not get +32 Will.
 +32 Will would break the dramatic mechanics of the game. I think that is the importance of two. I am open to ways to elegantly put that in the purview of the mechanics rather than the GM.

I think that the GM's most important roll is 3, but I think the GM does that by playing one particular NPC, namely, The Balance. What should be explicitly in the text but probably isn't, is that the single most important thing the GM does in Anathema is to play as The Balance.
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Devon Oratz
Member

Posts: 75


« Reply #4 on: February 16, 2011, 03:48:36 PM »

Quote
Another major content-point concerns the Furies, and what seems to me to be a kind of trap-door that opens under the otherwise flawless ending-structure of the game. Beating the Furies? Becoming kind of an anti-Balance super-squad or something like that? It reads to me like a gamer-out, a "Hey, you can keep playing forever if you can do this" option, instead the raw truth of every other orienting text in the game: you are going down, forever, and the question is how - and what that will mean. As I see it, the Furies may do better to be like Satori - when the truly appropriate time comes, they show up and kill the character, full stop.

This warrants thinking about. So I shall think about it. A lot.

But I included that "option" (which is, incidentally, an optional rule) not out of a desire to please power-gamers who want to, as you put it, "Step Up". I included it because, thematically, for me, perhaps the most moving trope of all is the ability, occasionally to punch Cthulhu in the face. I think the darker it is before the dawn, the more a happy ending has any meaning at all.

But like I said, I'll think about it.

Quote
I suppose it's not surprising to you that I think removing the final modifier is a good idea.

You're absolutely right. I would argue it being necessary for more complex games, but Anathema is a game designed in one day. So I'm quite willing to apply some K.I.S.S here.

The idea of giving only the GM the ability to add/subtract dice is interesting. I'll think about it.

Quote
ii) Of the three modifiers, Anathema units seem most significant here. I'm thinking in terms of playing the above character, or maybe any character: absent specific ethical concerns of the moment, I plan to kill frequently, if not indiscriminately I suppose, and keep Anathema high enough that I can pretty much always double my Ability dice. As long as Anathema is below 20 or so, and assuming that a good fun scene calls for multiple rolls, I can see how a certain economy might set in, as I might not be able to kill my way up high enough fast enough and will have to pick and choose when I "Anathemize" my rolls. How about above that? It doesn't seem unlikely that I might have my character kill dozens, if not hundreds, of victims at once when I can. Is it part of the vision of the game that I might have 100 or 200 Anathema going? I'm not saying that's bad, not at all - I'm only curious to see if I'm interpreting correctly.

Yes 100+ Anathema is part of the vision of the game. Anathema is supposed to be spent mainly on activating Dominions, however. As written on page 13, Anathema for extra dice only works on "any action that a human could reasonably perform". For Shrouds, that is quite a limitation. Spending Will to reroll all dice that failed, after the fact, is probably something I see as being a bigger deal, mechanically.

Quote
ii) I am not convinced by the text's claim that the game doesn't feature combat much. It seems to me it definitely would, even without the "dust'em up" bad guys you provide later in the rules. But rare or common, the key feature of complicated conflict ("combat" most often) for me is the ordering of announced actions and outcomes. I think the current traditional, fully random, stop-motion initiative system is inadequate for the passion-driven, intensely personal aspects of combat in this game. I am thinking about all sorts of alternatives: the Action Point system in my proto-game Mongrel, for instance, seems well suited; or some kind of all-at-once rolling and retroactive ordering along the lines of Zero and Sorcerer, or more complex, In a Wicked Age.

I suppose it depends how much you consider "You roll six dice, I roll a die, and if you roll more successes a child dies" as "combat" or not. : P

Seriously, though, this is worth considering. I might make Initiative more complicated, I will probably not make it all that weird. The idea of Anathema somehow effecting initiative, perhaps by spending or bidding it, is what I'm contemplating now. 

Quote
4. This may sound very strange, but I think perception, as a character ability or action, does not rate a whole Ability of its own for this game. The single thing it specifically does concerns memory, and that function can be given some kind of roll unique to itself rather than being a character Ability. Otherwise it's the same-old, same-old "notice things" deal which is remarkably non-functional in most role-playing. Now, for all I know, you have some kind of nigh-unique skill or set of experiences with perception rolls that is incredibly fun, and if so, let me know what it is, and I'll drop the subject. But instead, if like me, you have struggled with getting things to happen even when perception rolls aren't made, or found scenes jammed up by who-notices-whom instead of getting to the point, and, if like me, you have often simply bypassed the whole thing and flatly said who notices whom, then maybe Perception can simply be jettisoned.

Okay, this is a good point.

But I think I just had a Eureka moment. Tell me if I'm talking out of my ass here but...what if Perception (in addition to the basic functions described above which, yes, I've had the same problems with as anyone, although I don't see "failing to notice someone" as being that big of a deal in Anathema, where, after all, you can just go kill someone else, turn into gas and phase through the door you could not find the key to, etcetera) Perception is used as the base stat for Initiative?

What if Initiative proceeds in order of Perception--and at the start of a turn, people can spend Anathema to increase Perception (hence, Initiative) on a one-for-one basis. I think it would at least solve the problem of Perception not doing much. Let me know how that sounds.

Anyway, am done. Thank you for the feedback. Like I said before, you gave me a lot to think about.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: February 19, 2011, 12:09:51 PM »

Hey,

I'm glad you like the diagram!

Aw crap, about my character. I actually had a really good one worked up, also Kindly, but lost the sheet and whipped up this one on the fly - missing rules I'd actually accorded with the first time, like the Will 7. Oh well.

I'm liking the idea of Anathema being a point-spend-bid for Initiative, not so much the idea about Perception, which I still think oughta simply be expunged and the point-totals adjusted to account for that. But whichever way you go, count me in on the playtesting.

Regarding angels, I supppose I'm being as precedent-centric as you mentioned you tended to be. There are a few sorts of angels and related notions I merely write off in, or from, my head entirely - Hallmark angels, of course; Milton's literary notions which are fine as literature but have nothing to do with religion; most medieval notions and imagery; and the mishmash of these things found in DC titles like Sandman and Lucifer. When one goes back and looks at the origins of the Abrahamic religions, a lot of conventional narrative simply gets tossed out the window, and the whole notion that there are these guys with wings with allegiances to heaven and hell ... well, screw it. Instead there's this gnostic soup of ideas, some of which involve supernatural beings and some of which involve God and some of which involve the Hebrew tribes and some of which involve local politics, and so on.

Plus the notions of Heaven and Hell as they appear in the references that I said I tend to write off, well, those post-date the time-period and texts I'm talking about by centuries. I figure you know this already, but for the record and for clarity, the Heaven/Hell stuff is grossly troweled onto the original (messy) compilations of documents. It's always interesting to me when someone with a strong Roman Catholic background, among others, sits down and reads the Bible one day - 'cause there's essentially nothing in there resembling anything he or she was taught. But I digress.

What's weird to me is the curious power, presence, and outright danger of the beings, cherubim and seraphim and whatnot. I mean, they're straight-up bad-asses on their own, with what appears to be no moral content or direct association with God-stuff, in the sense of a "heavenly host" or much like that. They're vaguely-described, unstoppably powerful, apparently highly opinionated, and all over the damn place.

So to me, Anathema(e) look very much like angels, much more so than any character in Paradise Lost, much more so than any image we see in religious art from the Renaissance, and much more so than any of the modern stuff like Touched By An Angel (and the host of similar), or the Vertigo comics.

I hope that was interesting at least.

Best, Ron
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charlesperez
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Posts: 30


« Reply #6 on: March 07, 2011, 08:54:07 PM »

One seeming hole I notice about the game is that, for a beginning Shroud, killing by any means other than attacking in combat is not efficient for gaining Anathema, because such indirect means costs one point of Anathema, the very point the killing was supposed to yield, and is not a sure kill. Even when killing a preferred victim for an extra point, the prospect of gaining net Anathema from the deed is uncertain. Am I reading the game wrong? Or is it the intention for every Shroud to be particularly good in combat, and to start its career by striking down its victims directly?

Charles
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Devon Oratz
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Posts: 75


« Reply #7 on: March 22, 2011, 05:32:45 PM »

Basically, you have to kill a medium sized number of people up-close-and-personal to build up "seed money" in terms of Anathema points to start using your fancier powers to set up creative "kill chains" to start getting a good yield of Anathema gained to Anathema spent. It's decidedly gamist, in a fucked up way.

Fortunately, many of your human victims are pathetically weak, so I don't think this design forces everyone to dump a bunch of points in Combat/War.

Ron (having actually played the game!) can probably answer better than I can at this point, though.
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Phil K.
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Posts: 31


« Reply #8 on: March 22, 2011, 08:15:00 PM »

I was holding off on posting about this until Ron got the actual play posted, but this is an issue we spotted during the session. We were all dying to use our powers but 1) none of us had a powerful enough ability for it to be worthwhile and 2) it seemed like a zero sum game.

1) We're angels of death but it's seriously that hard to kill a man with a touch? Come on!  Beef up the effectiveness of the powers, give us something to play with! Our rank 3 powers were actually worse than traditional (read: mortal) means of dealing death! This was a bit frustrating and really kept us from building lots of anathema.

2) It was immediately apparent to all of the players that it just wasn't worth using our powers aside from the cool factor in most cases. Spending anathema to gain anathema isn't a problem if the ROI is sufficient. The 1:1 exchange rate (which is really less than that, given that there is a chance you will fail to kill someone with a given power) feels restrictive. The players all seemed to feel that the powers should be a conduit for gaining anathema rather than a method for dumping it. To be fair, players did use their powers when they had an opportunity.  One evaporated the water source of a refugee camp and another caused a fatal accident at an artillery encampment.

-Phil
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #9 on: March 23, 2011, 03:32:47 AM »

Computer problems have delayed my playtest post, which is very frustrating.

I thought I'd make sure two issues are kept separate.

1. Getting your hands bloody at the start, in order to bank up enough Anathema to start using Dominions - this is great. It works really well, and ensures that the players (and characters) do not start killing safely from a distance. There's no anesthesia for what they are doing. I think what Charles wrote above is a strong feature of the game.

2. The Dominions as currently written - probably need a fairly intensive overhaul. Part of it concerns what Phil is talking about, the tendency toward spending as much or more Anathema to kill fewer people, i.e., a net loss of Anathema. This doesn't apply to every Dominion at every level, but it is a tendency across them. Another part concerns differences among Dominions in terms of effectiveness, particularly Atrophy.

I think the latter point is very easy to see once you play, and Devon, for you as the designer, will be very easy to revise, in whatever way you think is strongest. I don't see much point in belaboring it or dissecting it on-line - for one thing, we haven't played long-term, and for another, again, I don't think the design question should be subjected to committee-type dynamics.

Best, Ron
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charlesperez
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Posts: 30


« Reply #10 on: March 24, 2011, 11:06:32 AM »

In the movie Final Destination(2000), the antagonist is pretty much a Shroud that specializes in Misfortune. The Misfortune Dominion will be properly tuned when a player of Anathema would be able to understand why the Shroud in question would kill off his cadre of victims with Misfortune as he did in the movie, rather than simply cutting them down physically.

Charles
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Devon Oratz
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Posts: 75


« Reply #11 on: March 29, 2011, 01:10:35 PM »

Charles--

For each game I have developed (and in fact, for each character (the kind with stats) I've created), "because it's cool" has always been a valid reason for a particular option that might be slightly mechanically inferior. Especially in a game like Anathema where there is very little risk of PC death under most circumstances. I do think that Misfortune has a large potential for collateral damage, and in some of the "accidents" Ron listed from his play example, he was really nailing that particular mechanical quirk, as were the players who were coming up with some creative uses of it. It is in a better position than, say, Atrophy. Atrophy should probably be able to effect items as well, causing rot or oxidization (rust) of say. the supports of a bridge or the bolts holding together a ferris wheel at an amusement park. I think that might help to balance but.

What I really need to do, however, is set aside a day when I can really focus on the game to make some general revisions.
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