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Author Topic: [The Shackled Self] Ronnies feedback  (Read 4186 times)
Ron Edwards
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« on: April 14, 2011, 08:56:50 AM »

I placed Raffaele Manzo's The Shackled Self into my "ferment" category, meaning that I think its system does not live up to the potential of the content. And here by "system" I don't mean the board and its color-based organization, which I really like, but rather the heart of any RPG system, which is reward and the procedural subroutines which feed directly into it. Looking at the rules, I say, "How much fun is this to play," and although all sorts of things about preparation and the players' roles are good, play itself ultimately boils down to one thing: the judging.

The criteria for judging make a lot of sense to me for the Test scenes. But it looks muddled for the Past scenes (Memory/Flashback) and genuinely un-fun for the Night scenes. And I think the latter are the most important, so problems with them are problems with the game, as an entirety.

For the Past scenes, it's about prevailing, but I find the explanation of prevailing to be murky - or worse, frankly absent. Saying it goes to the Mountain player's "gut" isn't good enough, because all the judging in this game is a gut call. The question is about what.

I do like the procedure in Past scenes for establishing the human limits (and possibly overcoming them) within them, very much. Could it be applied to Test scenes as well?

For Night scenes, the criterion for success, stated several times, is whether one speaker hesitates or stammers. Not the speaker's content, not the quality of their contribution, but whether they speak confidently and mellifluously. I'm a little surprised by this. Can the actual skill of play be merely to bloviate confidently? That would be antithetical to listening and also to the primary mechanic, the obligation to judge.

The game brings up classical issues of long standing, also dramatized in modern literature in Maugham's The Razor's Edge and Hesse's Siddhartha. The interpretation of the Ronnies terms is really good. The resolution system introduces the interesting system of judgment upon the hero by the very obstacle he is attempting to transcend.* But the standard for judging Night scenes, arguably the most dramatically interesting part of the game, seems to me to override and devalue the depth established by the game in general and specifically in a given group's preparation.

And now let's examine the entirety of the reward system. Here's what's going on in terms of potential outcomes as one's various fortunes proceed through play, casting myself as the Prince player:

1. I must keep Resolve up, and use it when I can, or otherwise fail through exhaustion. This is the most straightforward component, and not surprisingly, the only way to raise Resolve are to do things which are a bit problematic, or can be - to invite Temptation or to let the Mountain move for you. That's good game design, so we move on.

2. I must avoid Temptation, or alternatively yield to it entirely. The first of these is effectively the subroutine to inviting Temptation, as well as its own problem in Night scenes. It's also the heart of the most interesting characterization and narrational details of the whole game, as I see it, and there's a special version of it at the very end under some circumstances. So, all good there too.

The second option concerning Temptation shows that the game has a lot more to it than merely "can I get to the end square without becoming exhausted." At any point, depending on fictional events, the Prince player may decide that the Temptations have value to him - creating a different kind of victory. That is awesome, and underscores why I think the problem with judging Temptation scenes is a serious issue.

I considered whether it would do well strictly as a board game with enlightenment-esque flavor, but that would entail stripping out the entire reward and resolution system and effectively discard the design as a whole with the exception of the board. That's silly, I think. So the question is how to make this work as an RPG, or more in that direction. So, given that the reward system is looking to be solid, that means the only real issue lies with procedure.

1. First and foremost, establishing new criteria for judging Night scenes. I am pretty sure that you would agree with me that the simplistic notion of whether the Prince resists the temptation is both philosphically boring and procedurally annoying, forcing the Prince player to play him like a wooden post. So, what should the criteria be?

2. Second but also important, requiring forward-moving action or articulated realizations in the narrations of play, and also whether any narration is conducted after the Mountain's judgments.

Both of those should be considered in the framework of a larger question, which is actually the classical GNS inquiry: what are we, as a group, really doing here? Are we trying individually to win, or perhaps some version of that like not to lose? Are we here to address a telling question of personal identity, ethics, or otherwise genuinely-emotional dramatic issue? Are we here to put a given set of source material through a unique process of pressure and novel expression?

And if you say, brightly, "all three!", then the real question is, which is the first priority, specifically as the thing which gets consistently expressed, reinforced, and appreciated at a group level?

My take is that it would do best as strong Simulationist play, which (since people are still confused about this) means that the priority is to put a unique spin or stress onto the source material, to see whether the source material "holds up" when we're doing more than merely imitating it.

Here are some final comments which I think can only be addressed if that crucial #3 above gets resolved first.

1. The distinction between memory and flashback scenes is quite minor, especially if the "confusing" option comes into the former. I recommend making them more distinct in both procedure and possible outcomes.

2. The role of "saving the world" is the most conceptually problematic feature of the whole game. Is the game about overcoming one's attachment to the world or about saving the world? That distinction is utterly crucial, as I see it, and even subject to some major discussion regarding certain significant documents called the Gospels, if we wanted to go that way. But for the moment, sticking with this solely as a game, making those two things uncritically synonymous unfortunately reduces the fiction to the level of an anime video game. I'm imagining the echoing voice-over at the beginning ... "And the fate of the world lies in the balance." That ... well, it's pretty terrible** in comparison to the rest of the content.

There may be a potential solution to this, (i) which might play the same excellent role as the option to yield fully to Temptation, but (ii) I'm not sure whether it's actually present in the text or merely inadvertently implied by the happenstance of the current phrasing. I'm talking about whoever narrates the fate of the world pulling a switch and saying, for instance, "Nothing happens to it." In other words, the option to obviate the fate-of-the-world content entirely, making the story utterly personal and incidentally - as I see it - adding depth. Is that actually present in the rules? If so, that's pretty cool.

Raffu, I also want to say thanks for the entry. It is really thought-provoking not only in enjoyable content, but also because it allows me to point out that just because a design uses a physical board, that does not, in itself, play a role in whether I think a first-draft design is better developed as a non-RPG vs. an RPG.

Best. Ron

* And in this bears a lot in common with Beholden, as well as potentially with Camwhores.

** Unlike, for instance, in Polaris, in which (i) overcoming one's attachment to the world is not a serious issue of play and (ii) the world is bloody well doomed and not therefore at stake via play.
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Rafu
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Raffaele, from Italy


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« Reply #1 on: April 14, 2011, 09:29:08 AM »

Ron, thank you for the kind words. I'm surprised that you started your feedback threads from my own entry and my personal favorite one (Elizabeth's), so I wished to post a note here immediately. I'll meditate carefully on what you wrote here before rushing to reply.
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Raffaele Manzo, or "Rafu" for short. From (and in) Italy. Here's where I blog about games (English posts). Here's where I micro-blog about everything.
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« Reply #2 on: April 14, 2011, 11:07:49 AM »

The role of "saving the world" is the most conceptually problematic feature of the whole game. Is the game about overcoming one's attachment to the world or about saving the world? That distinction is utterly crucial ... making those two things uncritically synonymous unfortunately reduces the fiction to the level of an anime video game.

I agree with Ron's second point (the distinction is crucial), but I disagree that this is a decision you have to make, Rafu.  In fact I think it could be even more powerful if you explicitly work that question into the game, and let the players confront it and generate Theme.

Prince: "I'm going to transcend humanity and make my power level over 9000 and save the world!  ^_^ "
Mountain: "Sure, make your choice.  Do you want superpowers, or the desire to use them?"
Prince: " . . . "

If the Prince gets different instructions from the other two (they already get different questionnaires), maybe the existence of that choice doesn't even get revealed until after play has begun?
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Rafu
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Raffaele, from Italy


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« Reply #3 on: April 15, 2011, 11:22:03 AM »

quote author=Ron Edwards link=topic=31449.msg285842#msg285842 date=1302800210]The second option concerning Temptation shows that the game has a lot more to it than merely "can I get to the end square without becoming exhausted." At any point, depending on fictional events, the Prince player may decide that the Temptations have value to him - creating a different kind of victory.

Yes! This is what I'm anticipating as the single most entertaining thing in the game when I finally get to playtest (a refined version of) it, and I expect the whole Prince-Temptation player dynamic to hinge on it.
(And to clarify what kind of mental space I'm coming from: I didn't originally view it as necessary to state the Prince's ability to "surrender" out loud, as it was implied as the most obvious/natural thing in my mind. It's only when I was apportioning the three players' narration rights regarding the endgame vignette that I realized I had to write down this option explicitly.)
Which brings us, through a very long jump, to a clarification you solicited:


There may be a potential solution to this, (i) which might play the same excellent role as the option to yield fully to Temptation, but (ii) I'm not sure whether it's actually present in the text or merely inadvertently implied by the happenstance of the current phrasing. I'm talking about whoever narrates the fate of the world pulling a switch and saying, for instance, "Nothing happens to it." In other words, the option to obviate the fate-of-the-world content entirely, making the story utterly personal and incidentally - as I see it - adding depth. Is that actually present in the rules? If so, that's pretty cool.

"Of course" (I say, but I now realize it's not at all obvious) as the endgame rules don't limit the authorities held by a narrating player, the "fate of the world" can be made a red herring entirely, if so desired.
This would probably be key to my "strategy" when playing as Temptation: to develop trust with the Prince (as a player, or at the "metaplay" level as Tobias W. would say); to implicitly persuade him that, should he surrender to me, nothing bad is going to happen to the world (or to whatever he personally cares about, anyway). Whether I'd then honor such trust or betray it, in the end, would depend on other concerns entirely: most importantly my feelings about how the fiction developed, but also my own "judgment" over the Prince character if I'm so inclined at the moment.

With the above temporarily set aside (but there will be further discussion, of course, regarding "saving the world", which I now understand and agree was a bad choice of wording)…

I strongly agree with the meat of your analysis: the specific procedures of Past and Night scenes are exactly what I need to work on in order to make the game worthwhile, and that's exactly what I'll do. I'm not, however, going to jettison the current basic mechanism of Night scenes already: I'd rather try to iron out the details to make such core workable. I'll get to the whys in a follow-up post, hoping The Forge will help me out with the hows. ;)
About the Past scenes, instead I'm agnostic enough at the time that I can well redesign those completely, as soon as some inspired idea (which I'm currently lacking) strikes me.

But I admit getting a bit confused regarding parts of your "GNS" concerns, and since I well understand how taking a stance on the matter necessarily precedes any further work (or any work at all on a role-playing game, for that matter) my next post in this thread is going to address that topic specifically. We'll see whether we'll end up moving necessary preliminaries quickly out of the way or engaging in educated digressions… Luckily enough, there is no reason for me to be in a hurry.

Oh, yeah, by the way: short after the 24-hrs design/write marathon (indeed I was in a hurry at the time, for a change) I finally took the time to blog about which games where my conscious sources of inspiration, in case people want to have a look at it. I'm probably going to reference a few of those in my follow-up posts in this thread
The second option concerning Temptation shows that the game has a lot more to it than merely "can I get to the end square without becoming exhausted." At any point, depending on fictional events, the Prince player may decide that the Temptations have value to him - creating a different kind of victory.[/quote]

Yes! This is what I'm anticipating as the single most entertaining thing in the game when I finally get to playtest (a refined version of) it, and I expect the whole Prince-Temptation player dynamic to hinge on it.
(And to clarify what kind of mental space I'm coming from: I didn't originally view it as necessary to state the Prince's ability to "surrender" out loud, as it was implied as the most obvious/natural thing in my mind. It's only when I was apportioning the three players' narration rights regarding the endgame vignette that I realized I had to write down this option explicitly.)
Which brings us, through a very long jump, to a clarification you solicited:


There may be a potential solution to this, (i) which might play the same excellent role as the option to yield fully to Temptation, but (ii) I'm not sure whether it's actually present in the text or merely inadvertently implied by the happenstance of the current phrasing. I'm talking about whoever narrates the fate of the world pulling a switch and saying, for instance, "Nothing happens to it." In other words, the option to obviate the fate-of-the-world content entirely, making the story utterly personal and incidentally - as I see it - adding depth. Is that actually present in the rules? If so, that's pretty cool.

"Of course" (I say, but I now realize it's not at all obvious) as the endgame rules don't limit the authorities held by a narrating player, the "fate of the world" can be made a red herring entirely, if so desired.
This would probably be key to my "strategy" when playing as Temptation: to develop trust with the Prince (as a player, or at the "metaplay" level as Tobias W. would say); to implicitly persuade him that, should he surrender to me, nothing bad is going to happen to the world (or to whatever he personally cares about, anyway). Whether I'd then honor such trust or betray it, in the end, would depend on other concerns entirely: most importantly my feelings about how the fiction developed, but also my own "judgment" over the Prince character if I'm so inclined at the moment.

With the above temporarily set aside (but there will be further discussion, of course, regarding "saving the world", which I now understand and agree was a bad choice of wording)…

I strongly agree with the meat of your analysis: the specific procedures of Past and Night scenes are exactly what I need to work on in order to make the game worthwhile, and that's exactly what I'll do. I'm not, however, going to jettison the current basic mechanism of Night scenes already: I'd rather try to iron out the details to make such core workable. I'll get to the whys in a follow-up post, hoping The Forge will help me out with the hows. ;)
About the Past scenes, instead I'm agnostic enough at the time that I can well redesign those completely, as soon as some inspired idea (which I'm currently lacking) strikes me.

But I admit getting a bit confused regarding parts of your "GNS" concerns, and since I well understand how taking a stance on the matter necessarily precedes any further work (or any work at all on a role-playing game, for that matter) my next post in this thread is going to address that topic specifically. We'll see whether we'll end up moving necessary preliminaries quickly out of the way or engaging in educated digressions… Luckily enough, there is no reason for me to be in a hurry.

Oh, yeah, by the way: short after the 24-hrs design/write marathon (indeed I was in a hurry at the time, for a change) I finally took the time to blog about which games where my conscious sources of inspiration, in case people want to have a look at it. I'm probably going to reference a few of those in my follow-up posts in this thread.
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Raffaele Manzo, or "Rafu" for short. From (and in) Italy. Here's where I blog about games (English posts). Here's where I micro-blog about everything.
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: April 19, 2011, 12:19:54 PM »

Ironing out the details of the Night scenes interests me the most. I'm inclined to jump straight into the hows, but sure, if you want to do the whys first, that's all right too.

Feel free to ask any and all Creative Agenda questions you'd like!

Best, Ron
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Rafu
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Raffaele, from Italy


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« Reply #5 on: April 19, 2011, 12:51:47 PM »

Alright, then!

I'd love to delve into this right now, but probably I won't have the time (got an airplane to catch tomorrow, and as soon as I'm back to Italy in almost a week you'll probably be here as well).

But, for a starter, have you had a chance to try Tobias's GR*? Because with the "night scenes" I was trying - badly and too sketchily - to imitate the central mechanics of that (great!) game.

* = I know pretty well you've got a copy of the text, at least. ;)
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Raffaele Manzo, or "Rafu" for short. From (and in) Italy. Here's where I blog about games (English posts). Here's where I micro-blog about everything.
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: April 19, 2011, 12:57:15 PM »

Actually I never did find that text in my suitcase, if it's the one he sneaked in there. I only know about it from his video and didn't find it when I looked for it. I haven't read or played it.

See you in Italy!
Ron
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Rafu
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Raffaele, from Italy


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« Reply #7 on: April 19, 2011, 01:03:07 PM »

You absolutely need to ask Tobias an electronic copy, then! Also as a prerequisite for having any conversation about the mechanics for "night" scenes, seriously. But because of its own merits, first and foremost.
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Raffaele Manzo, or "Rafu" for short. From (and in) Italy. Here's where I blog about games (English posts). Here's where I micro-blog about everything.
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