February round: reflection after the first rush

Started by Ron Edwards, February 21, 2011, 05:23:56 AM

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Ron Edwards

Realization Dawning, Moral Dawn, The Secret Lives of Serial Killers, MurderWing, Haunted, Murder: A Game About Crows, The Cycle of Seasons, They Became Flesh, Deathbird Black, Air Patrol, The Volume of Secrets, Memory Quest, Uncle Louis, Wings of Blood, Anathema = one hell of a gaming library. In an earlier thread, I wrote,

QuoteMore than any other round of the Ronnies, it pleases me to imagine some kind of boxed cover that holds books spine-out, containing all the entries for this round in one glorious collection of separate volumes, once each is brought to conceptual fruition. The games are diverse in all sorts of ways, yet there is some kind of shadowy, aerial, ethereal, gore-spattered unity to them which no single title fully encompasses. The strong motifs across them - angels most obviously - only contribute to the unity rather than define it. Even the comedy in some of them is weird and dark in a way which contributes as well.

Which is of course a pipe dream for a zillion reasons, but it's so nice in my mind's eye.

This is a remarkable round, even more so in my eyes now that I've busted my hump trying to understand them all. What a thematically and imaginatively unified bunch! Secrets, deception, revelation, projection, conviction, uncertainty, spirits, sudden danger, guilt, prompting, haunting, spying, reversal, hovering, influence, judgment, faith, delusion, trickery, satire, mordancy ... and yet such different angles, from stand-up cops to the most foul killers, for instance, and that's only one spectrum, material to ethereal perhaps being the most interesting one.

The combinations were definitely more skewed than I've ever seen: wings + murder: six games, all others have two games each except for morning + murder with one. I was a little surprised about that last - for some reason, the Agatha Christie model stuck in my head when I thought about it, "goodness, there's a corpse in the garden" on a nice sunny (hah!) English morning, and then we all sit around having biscuits figuring out which one of us did it. I figured to see a few entries along those lines.

Also, taking the terms single, wings: 10 games, murder: 9 games, morning 5 games, whisper 6 games

For contrast, here are the same numbers from the January round: skull + sword: 3 games, skull + soldier: 3 games, skull + old: 4 games, sword + soldier: 1 game, sword + old: 1 game, old + soldier: 4 games
skull: 10 games, soldier 8 games, sword 5 games, old 9 games

I don't really know what such summaries may indicate, and perhaps nothing, but I at least like to see whether the terms I came up with are inspiring from all angles, and how.

Angels showed up in five games by my count and interpretation of the term, cutting across all three "wings" combinations. Neat as that was in that no two of them were alike, I was especially fascinated by the use of what might be called genuine unknowns in design and play-experience, which showed up in at least six games, maybe as many as eight depending on your definition. That feature really counters what might be seen as a relatively simple array of systems compared to the January round. As with the games' topics themselves, the true diversity of the entries as play-systems lurks, rather than sits out there in the open.

Playtesting and further design threads are already under way, and I am planning a little rest period before starting the third round. It will definitely not begin during the first week of March! I have had some crappy luck with my gaming schedule lately and haven't even playtested one of the February round yet, much less got to several from January that I really want to try. And I'd like to live up to what I keep talking about, the idea that we should consider the entry and judging portion of the Ronnies to be only the beginning. So although my third-round terms are achingly ready, and although I am having eighty kinds of fun running the Ronnies again, I want to see them really yield as much as they might and not just whip through creative frenzies only to leave half-appreciated drafts lying around.

So please - play'em! Post about it! Discuss!

Best, Ron

Ron Edwards

So, I've run five rounds of Ronnies in total, three during the last four months of 2005, and two in the past two months. I've hit upon a somewhat more feasible method this time around and plan to do at least two more rounds in the next two to three months.

I was looking back to see what in the world I'm doing with these sets of terms. I've always known at a non-verbal level that there's a particular aesthetic standard I'm working with, when I modify a set or reject it entirely. But I haven't tried to articulate it before.

September 2005: rat, hatred, girlfriend, suburb
October 2005: fight, pain, cosmos, sphere
November 2005: gun mud dragon soviet
January 2011: soldier skull sword old
February 2011: whisper wing murder morning

I know that my choices for the sets of terms aren't random, but I don't try to front-load specific applications either. So what am I doing? Looking over the lists, I see:

- words in ordinary use which carry multiple meanings and loaded implications
- common motifs for role-players
- terms carrying some degree of shock and unfamiliarity for role-players, i.e., which I think design and play culture has traditionally shied away from
- animals, which typically combine some of the above categories
- shapes, sensations, emotions, or concepts

Terms which combine these are fun too, such as "girlfriend" which I think is 1 and 3, or "rat," which is 1, 2, and 4.

I brainstorm terms which speak to one another in my mind when I juxtapose them, either in a "obviously!" but also provocative way (girlfriend + hatred, old + soldier) or in a "geez, what could link those" way (mud + gun, morning + whisper), if the latter is not so baffling as to be silly. I especially like it when terms can conceivably be interpreted both in conjunction or in

I've come up with some four-word sets which I've decided not to use because they worked too well with one another as a complete set. When that happens, I realize that I probably ought to keep two or three of them and find another or others that are a bit further afield, to open up the
possibilities. For example, my original set for the January round used "bug" rather than "skull." But then I found that everything I imagined was about an aging soldier who used a techno-bayonet to fight in an endless war against scary bugs, and he himself was partly bug due to military modifications. So I reluctantly dropped "bug," thinking as well that a little bit of animal motif goes a long way and "rat" and "dragon" had perhaps done that job sufficiently so far.

Perhaps I've also associated words based strictly on sound, sort of an Anthony Burgess thing. Fight + pain + cosmos + sphere ... it has a punchy one-syllable feel that makes "cosmos" seem like a huge, long, complicated word by contrast, at least to me. And whisper + wings + murder + morning ... it could almost be a tone poem or something like that.

One thing I notice in retrospect for almost every round is that some three-word combinations can be strong, so it's challenging to adhere to the exclusivity rule, and the net effect is to produce games which seem like siblings, no two alike but with multiple cross-cutting associations which are not themselves the terms. The whole February 2011 round was like that.

It's not surprising that I often find the sets personally inspiring. I wrote the initial 24-hour draft of It Was a Mutual Decision (rat + girlfriend) in secret a day before running the first Ronnies round in September 2005. I would have written a cosmos + pain game except that Left Coast made my own notes look like useless little scraps. I haven't brought The People's Hero (soviet + dragon) into published form, but I hope to do so one day. And more recently, I have written a morning + wings game, an old + skull game, and another one based on a terms-set I will be using in a later round, none of which are public yet except for the first draft of the old + skull one, not much more than notes, that I submitted to the Solitaire RPG Challenge. I'm kind of excited about this little trilogy.

However, that doesn't mean I built the Ronnies idea from a technique I was already using. I came up with the contest (or endeavor) idea before I realized it could work for me. Also, other games I've come up with since then, like S/Lay w/Me, were not put together using the Ronnies device.

I'll keep posting these latter-day thoughts in this thread. Any comments on them, and all ideas and reflections from others, are certainly welcome as well.

Best, Ron

Marshall Burns

Just popping in to say that the terms have always been and continue to be totally boss. It's really been a regret of mine that I keep missing out on these. Which isn't to say that Rat House (rat + suburb), Skeleton Krew (skull + soldier), and Country Death Song (murder + morning) won't show up anyway. (Heck, Rat House is almost ready to play.)

Ron Edwards

Hey, I'm always happy to see the terms in action. I can't say for sure whether the third round prompted a general reflection on Cold War issues, but a lot of Soviet stuff showed up in games developed over the next year, from an absolute flatline preceding it.

My own It Was a Mutual Decision came from the original first round (girlfriend + rat), and The People's Hero, in development, from the third (soviet + dragon). I would have done a pain + cosmos too, inspired by Harlan Ellison's story Paingod, but Left Coast came along and said it all.

More recently, I've written three pretty intense games, mainly privately over the past five months, all of which were conceived as I was prepping the terms in anticipation of the new Ronnies. One is based on morning + wings, and one on old + skull. The third is based on terms from a set which isn't public yet. All three are so strange that I am currently wondering whether simply to put them up at the Adept Press website as curiosities, but maybe playtesting will help me focus my plans for them.

For clarity's sake, only the first was carried out as a 24-hour project to reach alpha state. The others have been more traditionally written without time pressures.

Best, Ron

Ron Edwards

Looking back to just over five years ago, a few things I've been thinking about since then which influenced me a lot for this round. And then there are some things, at this minute, which occur to me for the first time.

To recap, the first Ronnies round in September 2005 was run with a twenty-day submission window, and it brought in 32 games. In shock, I shortened the window to ten days: October 2005 brought in 27, and November 2005 brought in 24. That's 83 games in three months!! I don't quite know what to make of that, can't believe I did it.

I changed the timing of the submission procedures for the sake of my sanity, but also to reduce the scope of the project. My biggest fear is what showed up last time - a new round eclipses the old and is itself diminished due to participants being overwhelmed by it.

A few Ronnies entries got published: untitled, Space Rat, One Can Have Her, untitled (Keith Senkowski), Cutthroat, Best Friends, Contenders, 3:16, eXpendables, The Drifter's Escape, Hierarchy, Stand Off!, and as of just a little while ago, Dragon vs. Gun and On the Ecology of the Mud Dragon. Nearly all are available, and if you know Keith, bug him for a copy. I think this is way too small a number.

I still hold out hope for Rats in the Walls, eXpendables, Left Coast, Krasnoarmeets, Mud Planet, Munch-Mausen Tales, Space Rangers, Disaster!, and Reality Cops. Some of these are really close to publication-ready.

Things I'd sure love to see in action again ... apocalypse girl, Krasnoarmeets, Alien Angels, General Mud, Holodomor, January's Frost, The End of the World, Dirty Fucking Freaks, The Suburban Crucible, Vendetta, The Long Patrol, Sphear, delete, The Dark Wood, Bylina & Bogatyr, Darling Grove, and Dirty Virgins.

Making that list bummed me out. That is way too much quality work lost to the collective design discussion. We need solid follow-up, solid launching, a community embrace of the endeavor and ongoing enthusiasm about projects - a few posts isn't enough. For the new stuff to be sure, but looking back to the older stuff too.

Should you be curious, all of the entries are still available at the 24-Hour website, although they aren't very easy to find there internally. I recommend running a Google search combining the game title and "1km1kt," which has given me the game on the first hit every time. I've tried to provide links for the published games and updated drafts as well as the entries.

rat girlfriend: published, Space Rat, One Can Have Her, Cutthroat (not available, bug Troy!); in development, Munch-Mausen Tales; original entries , The Rat-God's Girlfriend, January's Frost
rat suburb: original entries, The Great Rat Raid, Ratpack, Fink, Sloat & Larkin
rat hatred: published, "untitled" (Keith Senkowski), but not currently available (bug Keith!); in development, Rats in the Walls; original entries, Attack of the Giant Rats, King Rat, Regis Furor,
girlfriend suburb: original entries, The Suburban Crucible, Darling Grove
girlfriend hatred: published, Best Friends; original entries, She's ..., Black Widows, My Girlfriend's a Slut/My Boyfriend's a Dick, Alien Angels, Guilt & Frustration, I Think My Girlfriend Hates Me, SleepOver, Vendetta
suburb hatred: original entries, Get Out Get Away Get Wise Get Back Get Even, Want, Suburban Hatred (couldn't find it), Secrets in Surburbia, All Growed Up, The End of the World

fight pain: published, Contenders, The Drifter's Escape; original entries, Today, Last Breath, Dirty Fucking Freaks (can't find it at 1km1kt; email me to request a copy or bug Graham), Whitecollar Punks
fight cosmos: published, Hierarchy (not available, bug Troy!), 3-16; in development, Space Rangers, eXpendables, bug Chris Bone and Raven for updates; original entries, Cosmic Combat, Cycle, Left Coast (which I think fits a little better in "pain cosmos"), Starblade Echoes,
fight sphere: original entries, Sphear, Material World, Fight Sphere
pain cosmos: original entries, Adrift, Cosmos, Monotheism
pain sphere: in development, Reality Cops; original entries, Escape From Hell, The Dark Wood
cosmos sphere: original entries, Xochitlcozamalotl

soviet dragon: original entries, White Dragon (this did see further development; bug Alexander for an updated draft)
soviet gun: published, Standoff! (bug Troy!); original entries, October's Shadows, Defenders of the Union, A Song Without End
soviet mud: original entries, Krasnoarmeets, Holodomor, General Mud, Stalin's Story, Soviet Politics, The Long Patrol
dragon gun: The Dragon vs. the Gun; original entries, apocalypse girl, Here Be Dragons!, Firestarter
dragon mud: published, available soon, On the Ecology of the Mud Dragon; in development, Mud Planet; original entries, Dirty Virgins, The Saint's Golem & the Devil's Dragon, Dragons of Blood and Water, Bylina & Bogatyr
gun mud: original entries, delete, infinity

Run searches in the Forge Archive using the game title to find the old feedback threads and in many cases, playtest threads too.

Best, Ron
edited to fix organizational formatting
and again to fix a screwy link


So, I wanted to point out that one of the barriers to developing the kind of culture Ron seems to want to raise around these games is that it doesn't really matter how much enthusiasm we generate here.  If we can't create equal amounts of enthusiasm *locally* to ourselves beyond our online activity it's pretty hard to participate in this process beyond submitting designs and providing reader feedback.

Locally, I have no problem organizing a game of say, Dogs in the Vineyard or Sorcerer or even My Life with Master.  But getting together a game of It Was A Mutual Decision is like pulling teeth; being met with nothing but weird stares whenever I bring the game up.  Even among local "indie" heads I get called "niche".

I've wanted to play Left Coast for a LONG, LONG while now but get rejected every time I make the suggestion.  I even have two hard-core Heinlein fans among my extended gaming circle.

In some cases this is a rejection of the subject matter (like Mutual Decision) but in some cases it's a flat out rejection of the process.  I know very few people who are willing to engage with games that aren't "complete."  And by "complete" I mean tested and vetted by someone else.  It's why I put Doctor Chaos on the con schedule.  I had to call out to strangers to accumulate interest because I knew I wasn't going to be able to just call up my regular gaming buddies.

Basically, these games are perceived as too weird, too small or too socially risky to generate sufficient local interest.

Note: I'm not saying this can't be overcome.  But if you haven't already cultivated the social context to properly engage these games, it's an awful lot of work to create one.