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46709 Posts in 5588 Topics by 13297 Members Latest Member: - Shane786 Most online today: 29 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: Beyond the Mirror, a sci-fi game on memories and humanity -in development  (Read 5478 times)
Rafu
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Raffaele, from Italy


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« Reply #15 on: May 16, 2011, 01:23:35 PM »

Hello there.

I was a playtester for BtM both in December and last week. First thing: I'm impressed at how much the game has grown and improved in relatively little time. Less than six months ago, it was a bunch of great ideas failing to coalesce together. A week ago, it was sleek and played like a "finished" game, so that I submit it only needs some tweaking right now, as opposed to any major reworks.

A disclaimer, though: I haven't played through a full game. In December, I couldn't because the structure was pretty rough and it ground to a halt. But when we playtested last week, I think we could have played the game to its end and I was a little disappointed we didn't, 'cause I was powerfully engaged with both the fiction and the characters.

A WARNING WORD: RIGHT AFTER WRITING BUT BEFORE SUBMITTING MY POST, I LEARNED FROM TAZIO THAT THE MOST CURRENT RULES HAVE CHANGED SINCE LAST WEEK. I'm still posting this because, who knows, it may still be useful to point out something or whatever. Anyway, in the last version I tried, the difficulty target for rolls was = 2+Blur; I now learn that it's currently tied to Focus, instead.

A problem I felt last time, though, is with the dice-rolling method employed. To be clear: I don't think it suffers of excessive handling time — au contraire, it's PTA-grade fast or even faster.
Instead, I felt like luck had an excessive impact: when you roll high on your d6, you're safe. Yes, you can choose to invest "excess" points into Focus tokens and/or dodging Blur tokens or to get faster progress toward your Goal, but you do this from a position of psychological safety (yawn!), plus the optimal spending strategy is easily figured out: prioritize not acquiring Blur in order to keep roll difficulty low, always, grow Focus up first until you max it out or get close, then start pursuing your Goal — and playing any other way is like deliberately shooting yourself, so not fun. Likewise, on low d6 rolls, you're going to drop away from your Goal 1 step, but otherwise you juggle your dice optimally to minimize your losses, again either doing what's safest or shooting yourself very deliberately. In the end, there are surprisingly few hard-felt choices in this game of hard-felt choices. :(
I'm pretty sure it's just a mathematical glitch, though, while I feel like the procedural structure of the game is rock-solid.
Off the top of my head, right after the playtest session, I cobbled together an alternate dice-rolling/resolution system which may help with this, but I don't warrant anything.
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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.
Tazio Bettin
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« Reply #16 on: May 16, 2011, 01:54:34 PM »

Aaand... there comes Rafu, pointing the exact problem with the best clarity possible.
Thanks, friend. Your description, apart from being impossibly kind and encouraging, strikes the problem at its very core.
The game should be about the hard choice. Do I keep my humanity but risk my goal or do I pursue my goal risking my humanity?
Right now, it's too chance oriented.
But I wouldn't want the game to be completely without it.
I would like to take Gun Thief by Joe McDaldno as an example. Beyond the Mirror might be like that. Just make the choice and narrate. No dice, no random factor at all. Which is brilliant, but isn't exactly what I want in Beyond the Mirror. The suggestion you made during the last playtest is intriguing. Rafu would you please talk about it here, when you have the time? It was your suggestion after all.

Thanks again!
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Rafu
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Posts: 64

Raffaele, from Italy


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« Reply #17 on: May 16, 2011, 02:41:15 PM »

Tazio, what I suggested at the time was an implementation of an "Otherkind dice" system.

Specifically, it was:
  • Light player rolls 6dF (and no d6s or anything else).
  • "+"s become Light player's own dice to place (see below), "-"s become Darkness player's, blanks are discarded.
  • Players take turns placing their dice over three "columns": Focus, Blur and Success.
Note: since they "take turns", initiative is important. Maybe tie that to current Blur vs. Focus totals?

  • Focus: by default, a conflict generates 0 focus, unless "+"s are placed here. Number of "+"s in column minus number of "-"s in column equals Focus tokens generated, 0 minimum (conflict cannot result in lost Focus).
  • Blur: by default, each conflict generates 1 Blur token (I suggest physical token is placed in column). 1 more token for each "-" Darkness player puts in this column, minus number of "+"s Light player allocates here (which can result in 0 Blur taken, but can't result in diminished Blur).
  • Success: sum up "+"s and "-"s in column algebraically. Positive sum means Light succeeds at their intent/stated outcome in conflict, negative sum means they fail. Goal score is increased/diminished by the whole sum representing long term progress toward goal (or straying away from it). Note: lots of thing could be made to happen on a 0 sum or "tied" result.

I admit this system still involves manipulating dice with no immediate fictional outcome, but with just 6dF I purport the handling time is negligible. Compared to the d6+dFs method, I expect this one to decrease the impact of randomness and accentuate the feeling one is making choices.
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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.
Tazio Bettin
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Posts: 27


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« Reply #18 on: May 16, 2011, 03:12:57 PM »

I admit this system still involves manipulating dice with no immediate fictional outcome, but with just 6dF I purport the handling time is negligible. Compared to the d6+dFs method, I expect this one to decrease the impact of randomness and accentuate the feeling one is making choices.

Unless one narrates after every dice is placed?
The resolution might go as far as covering the entire scene. Like in: the Light rolls before she frames the scene, then each plus or minus place equals to a turn of events in the game's fiction. That'd stretch things a whole load, and I don't know if it'd work but maybe it's worth trying and playtesting it.
The resolution mechanic you suggest indeed does decrease the random factor significantly, and enhance the hard choice logic. I need to try it. Thank you for suggesting it. I was so caught in designing a mechanic that be original that I lost sight of the whole purpose.

Which does not mind that if I find a balance in the dF+d6 mechanic I won't use it... :)
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davide.losito
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Posts: 37


« Reply #19 on: May 16, 2011, 03:15:28 PM »

Oh, so this mechanic idea was yours ^^ nice to know :)

What I added tonight in the "suggest" list was... to add in a piece of narration with each die placing, maybe tuned to the chose column.
Which Tazio just pointed out while I was posting...
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Rafu
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Raffaele, from Italy


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« Reply #20 on: May 16, 2011, 05:47:02 PM »

Uh, I forgot: the above system also needs IMO some way Light player can "gamble" with Blur.
For example, this:

After rolling dice Light can choose to place an extra token in the Blur column (to be added as a Blur token by end of conflict unless reset with an extra "+"). If they do this, they roll additional 2dF to replace any two other previously rolled dF of their choice.
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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.
Paul Czege
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #21 on: May 17, 2011, 06:37:02 AM »

As long as a player cares about the different possible dice allocations, the Otherkind mechanics can definitely feel like difficult decisionmaking in play.

One of the notes I made as I was reading Beyond the Mirror exactly matches Ben's concern. "Will anyone actually want to be revealed as human?" If you've confirmed in playtesting that players aren't much interested in being revealed as human, here's a thought. Maybe have different epilogue tables for humans and synths. And the tables grant and withhold thematically substantial aspects of player goals. Maybe it's harder for a synth to get his goal. Maybe the options even give the player a choice that they answer during their epilogue narration. "You find short term happiness on Earth. Or, if your goal involved getting offworld, you're destroyed in the attempt." "You get your goal, but an important memory turns out to be false, tainting your happiness." The important bits are earth vs. offworld, true vs. false memories, getting your goal or not, and whether you or others turn out to be synths or not. Am I missing anything?

Also, ditch the "You gain your goal completely" option. It's not dramatically interesting, and it's easy for a player to not prioritize it.

Paul
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"[My Life with Master] is anything but a safe game to have designed. It has balls, and then some. It is as bold, as fresh, and as incisive  now as it was when it came out." -- Gregor Hutton
Tazio Bettin
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Posts: 27


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« Reply #22 on: May 17, 2011, 11:02:07 AM »

Awesome insight, Paul. Being or not being a replicant may make the difference. Now logic would dictate a rather tragic ending for a replicant, right? The happiness on Earth would be short term, in your example.
My problem would just be that I, instinctively, would pursue a tragic ending (blame Hollywood and the nausea I got with happy endings, I guess).
But you're pointing a definitely good direction, and now I'm going to think how to pursue it. Thanks!!

(side note: in no playtest but Ben's so far did it ever happen that anyone actively pursued being revealed as replicant... that's one reason why I haven't considered the though thoroughly enough, maybe... but it's a definitely crucial point).
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Tazio Bettin
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« Reply #23 on: May 20, 2011, 02:32:33 PM »

Paul, your idea on separate endings put quite some gears into motion.
I've been thinking about a possible simplification and took your suggestion of ditching the complete success.
It might work with lists like this:

for humans
If your goal is above 3, choose one for each point by which it is higher than 3. If you do not chose one, then the Shadow Speaker has authority on whether and how you get it (have to think this over: the other possibility is "you don't get what you don't choose").
You reach your goal
You stay alive
You save your relationship

If your goal is below 4, you do not get your goal. In addition, for each point by which it is lower than 4, you must choose one:
You end up in mysery: all what made your existence bearable in this dying planet is lost, including any chance to go Offworld
You die
You lose the most precious thing you had

Notice how the two lists are mutually exclusive. If your goal is above 3, then the second list just does not apply.
Also I'm thinking of introducing relationships. One per character, and it's a png controlled by one Shadow Player (not the Shadow Speaker, unless it's a two-players game). These basically work as flags for the Shadow and as something that gives you extra options during the ending phase. I've been talking with Rafu about it.

If I introduce relationships, they'd have to work like this, I think.
Relationship. At any time one of the Shadows (not the Speaker, unless it's a two-players game) may create an NPC to be the Light’s relationship. This character is defined by a name, a generic description and is created by the shadow who introduced it.
Only one relationship per Light. If the light introduces the relationship in game during the framing of a scene, one of the shadows (not the speaker) must control it. If possible, the same shadow who created it. Only the Light can introduce a relationship in a scene.
A relationship can only be revealed as replicant as the result of a culmination, typically in the “if you fail” clause declared by the Shadow Speaker. Same goes with the death of a relationship, because that would count as risking something, a condition for a culmination taking place.

The problematic part is getting a list for the synths. Much more challenging.
Might be:
By default, a synth’s epilogue implies that the character’s identity is wiped clean. It is the same mechanism that made the synth’s true identity hide itself behind a layer of false memories, a cycle that is restarted. The character loses memory of everything that happened during the fiction. His memory was a mere construct, any solace tied to it also is a lie. In addition, choose from the following list.

Plus
You go Offworld
You reach your goal, but lose all you had
You retain your identity

Minus
You are scrapped
Your relationship betrays or abandons you
*****thinking about the third one at the moment*****
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Tazio Bettin
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« Reply #24 on: June 03, 2011, 01:45:32 PM »

Tazio, what I suggested at the time was an implementation of an "Otherkind dice" system.

Specifically, it was:
  • Light player rolls 6dF (and no d6s or anything else).
  • "+"s become Light player's own dice to place (see below), "-"s become Darkness player's, blanks are discarded.
  • Players take turns placing their dice over three "columns": Focus, Blur and Success.
Note: since they "take turns", initiative is important. Maybe tie that to current Blur vs. Focus totals?

  • Focus: by default, a conflict generates 0 focus, unless "+"s are placed here. Number of "+"s in column minus number of "-"s in column equals Focus tokens generated, 0 minimum (conflict cannot result in lost Focus).
  • Blur: by default, each conflict generates 1 Blur token (I suggest physical token is placed in column). 1 more token for each "-" Darkness player puts in this column, minus number of "+"s Light player allocates here (which can result in 0 Blur taken, but can't result in diminished Blur).
  • Success: sum up "+"s and "-"s in column algebraically. Positive sum means Light succeeds at their intent/stated outcome in conflict, negative sum means they fail. Goal score is increased/diminished by the whole sum representing long term progress toward goal (or straying away from it). Note: lots of thing could be made to happen on a 0 sum or "tied" result.

I admit this system still involves manipulating dice with no immediate fictional outcome, but with just 6dF I purport the handling time is negligible. Compared to the d6+dFs method, I expect this one to decrease the impact of randomness and accentuate the feeling one is making choices.

It doesn't work.
I tried this mechanic today and it doesn't work... basically, even with many dice, the Light must go through a great deal of fatigue in order to just avoid the Shadow doing damage to her, by placing - dice either on blur or on success. The Light can thus only play defensive and she will never place dice on the focus column unless she gets a very lucky roll. Adding more dice (i.e. roll 8 instead of 6) of course nothing changes. There is no real choice for the Light, therefore the conflict loses its purpose (to pit the player against a tough choice)... sigh, it did sound like a great idea, but in the end...

I even tried other solutions (roll four dice, you HAVE TO place at least one in each column, and it's only the Light choosing, for instance), but things don't change and the pace of the game becomes incredibly slow...
The way it is now (roll 1d6+4dF, the Shadow removes one) or variants (roll 1d6+4dF, the Shadow rolls one dF and chooses whether to remove one of your dF or switch her dF result with one of yours, for instance), remains the better choice, for now.
I think I'll concentrate on the ending solution, just like Paul suggested. Maybe that's where the real problem is.

The fact is, whenever you roll dice, be it d6+dF or dF only, you have equal chances of having a lucky roll that solves the situation with no real choice.
I'm even thinking of a solution that doesn't involve dice, come to this point. But I'll do it later. First, the ending mechanics.
At least all this pointed where I should proceed first, and this is a precious insight.
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Paul Czege
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #25 on: June 09, 2011, 07:58:44 AM »

Tazio,

I have some additional feedback. Two items actually. I've been holding off because in the past I think I've given designers too many pieces of disparate feedback on their games, and it wasn't productive.

First item:

It's obvious that you've put incredible effort into the English language text of Beyond the Mirror. It's impressive work, knowing that English isn't your native language. But I want to suggest that you write it and organize it differently. You want a text that inspires people to want to play the game. Your text begins with, and includes lots of language like:

"a story game whose aim is to explore"
"help you recreate"
"gather some of your friends"
"introduce her character in play"
"move her, describe what she does..."
"maneuvering scene elements and external characters"

This kind of language casts the prospective player into an "author" mindset relative to play. You're telling prospective players that the game is supposed to be an authoring experience, where characters are "introduced" and "maneuvered," like the script committee for a TV show. And before you even talk about what the characters and setting and situation is like, the kinds of things that inspire creative enthusiasm, you're talking about the theme. No one gets excited to read a novel or see a movie by being told about its themes. I don't think gamers get excited to play roleplaying games by being told about their themes either. They get excited by being presented with characters, situation, and setting that they can visualize, and from this stuff the themes are intuitive to them.

Also, before you present inspiring game situation and setting, you also have language about how the characters are placed into "a situation of crisis" and "experience how it changes them," and about what sacrifices and choices they'll have to make. Players won't be inspired by this. Nobody fantasizes about having to make difficult decisions, about having to make sacrifices, or about having to change.

I recommend starting the text with the situation of the synths: created for war, in hiding for fear of being hunted and scrapped, with their memories buried and covered over with false ones, waiting for the opportunity of a better life.

I think the themes should be emergent from actual play, and the stuff about difficult choices and sacrifices and about the practices of introducing and manipulating scene elements and characters should only appear, if necessary, when you're explaining the procedures of play.

Paul
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"[My Life with Master] is anything but a safe game to have designed. It has balls, and then some. It is as bold, as fresh, and as incisive  now as it was when it came out." -- Gregor Hutton
Tazio Bettin
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Posts: 27


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« Reply #26 on: June 18, 2011, 02:44:38 AM »

Hi Paul,
again, thank you very much for the interest you're showing in my effort. It means much to me. And as always, very solid points, which I will definitely consider when I write a final version of the game. I'm sure it will significantly change the gaming experience for the better once I've implemented your suggestions, which I'll be sure to do.

Side note, I've re-built the ending rules. I'm fairly satisfied at the moment, but maybe because what bugs me most is the  conflict resolution mechanic which does not seem to work as well as I would want it to.

The ending part would be something like:

Endgame when you reach your Focus cap (human):
If your goal is above 3, choose one for each point by which it is higher than 3. If you do not chose one, you do not get it.
You reach your goal
You stay alive
You save your relationship***

If your goal is below 4, you do not get your goal. In addition, for each point by which it is lower than 4, you must choose one:
You end up in mysery: all what made your existence bearable in this dying planet is lost, including any chance to go Offworld
You die
You lose the most precious thing you had
(this list is the one I'm actually least satisfied with)

***relationship. At any time one of the shadow players (not the speaker) may create an NPC to be the Light’s relationship. This character is defined by a name, a generic description and is created by the shadow who introduced it.
There may be one relationship per Light. It's the relationship. The most important one. If the light introduces the relationship during play, one of the shadows (not the speaker) must control it. If possible, the same shadow who created it.
A relationship can only be revealed as replicant as the result of a culmination, typically in the “if you fail” clause declared by the Shadow Speaker. Same goes with the death of a relationship, because that would count as risking something, a condition for a culmination taking place.

Synth List
If your goal is above 3, choose one for each point by which it is higher than 3. If you do not chose one, then you do not get it.

You go offworld
You survive
You retain your identity (i.e. your artificial brain does not simply reset, as it would in an inconscious protocol in order to save your
existance, burying your true identity behind a new layer of false memories)

If your goal is below 4, you are scrapped. They get you, and you die.


Getting back to the conflict mechanics, I've been brainstorming with my dear friend Rafu and Joe (Mcdaldno), from which one rather important point emerged. It's: How should conflict be in the fiction? My answer was that I want to see something akin to how conflict is in the movie Blade Runner.
It usually starts physical, but it is revealed to be more about ethics and emotions and humanity.
It is rare but extended: its consequences span over more than one scene. It involves reassessing and repositioning, and fallout that occurs afterwards. Possibly it involves escalation towards physical harm. It is about taking risks to preserve and pursue one’s goal.
Is my mechanic delivering this? I would say partially.
It is extended because de facto you've been having an escalating scene which culminates in a resolution roll in its apex. You have a fallout afterwards, when you create scars and solaces. Which brings the emotional side, possibly the ethical one, and ultimately make you question your humanity.
The reassessing and repositioning is what bothers me. It exists, but right now it's only on a mechanical level (adjusting the roll by turning dice), not on the narrative one. So I'm considering this part at the moment.
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Tazio Bettin
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« Reply #27 on: August 01, 2011, 06:05:36 AM »

Major Update:
During this weekend I had a chance to run a very satisfying playtest, thanks to the kind help of Ben Lehman (who came to visit us during EtrusCON) amongst the others. After this playtest I finally edited the current playtest version, which now has come to 1.2, and if you're interested in playtesting, you will find a package including the rules, the character sheet and the story sheet here: http://www.mediafire.com/?0gdwcx6bsbza518
I would greatly appreciate any playtest actual play report, and in the last page of the rulebook you'll find an address to which you can send your reports.
Thanks and I hope you have fun!
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Paul Czege
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #28 on: August 10, 2011, 10:35:04 AM »

Tazio,

I have a couple of additional suggestions, both of which are aimed at making play less workshoppy.

For establishing a Location, I would recommend you say something like: "If this is your first game of Beyond the Mirror, you want a location on the scale of a city district. Choose from the following list:...For later games you'll go smaller. Suggestions appear later in the rules."

For Involvement and Purpose, I recommend a game ritual reminiscent of the Voight Kampff test. Have one player illuminated by a table lamp and the others in darkness. The other players ask questions, following from the player's chosen Trigger. "As a child you witnessed a suicide attack by a synth. Tell me about that." "Your brother works for the company. What do you stand to gain from this accident?" You answer in character and the other players note the answers on your character sheet. They probe, and don't stop the interview until they've discovered what makes your character a credible suspect. Then, turn off the light and the player answers the Purpose question. "What I hope to gain now is..."
And the other players record the answer.

Paul
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"[My Life with Master] is anything but a safe game to have designed. It has balls, and then some. It is as bold, as fresh, and as incisive  now as it was when it came out." -- Gregor Hutton
davide.losito
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Posts: 37


« Reply #29 on: August 10, 2011, 02:26:47 PM »

Paul, you're a genius.
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