[Constructs of Azazeal] Game Chef Review

Started by Troy_Costisick, April 19, 2012, 03:00:49 AM

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Constructs of Azazael Review
By: Troy M. Costisick

When I looked at the four games I was going to have to review for Game Chef, I couldn't have been happier.  They are the four games I would have picked myself, so for me, this is a real treat.  I'm posting this here because it is WAY longer than what Jonathan wants on the Game Chef site.

Constructs of Azazeal is a one-shot, gonzo magic game.   The protagonists are spell casting Mimics (homunculi) created by Dr. Azazeal Teitelbaum.  The antagonist is Coyote- a malevolent force that decimates the world when he returns from the Depth.

The game begins with some really motivational stuff.  I like the fiction that teases what the central conflict will be, and the first two paragraphs of the game powerfully outline what the game is about.  To me, that's important to state upfront, so I appreciate this author's writing style.  The third paragraph outlines what the characters will do.  And then the introduction concludes with a bit of setting information and the supplies the players will need to play.  For me, this is organized exactly as I would like to read it to decide if I'd want to play or not (btw, I would totally play this game).

One minor quibble in the introduction: Kyle states in the third paragraph that the players are mimics who were created by the Dr. Azazeal.  Actually, the players portray the mimics.  I only bring this up because I think Kyle could easily develop this game into a publishable product and clearly stating what the characters do and are vs. what the players do and are is important.

The game then goes on to sort of combine the character creation system and resolution systems together into one chapter.  This is understandable and very acceptable for a game under the 3000 word limit of Game Chef.  Characters have three traits: physical, mental, and aptitude.  This is very similar to the way I divided traits in my contest entry, so I really identified with this author's product.  I like the simplicity of treating traits this way, and I think that it covers most of the things the characters would do during play quite nicely.  Traits are assigned numerical values, then it's your classic roll + value > target number or opponent's roll + value in order to accomplish something.

Again, a minor quibble.  The author calls his resolution system "conflict resolution," but from all the examples it is clearly a task resolution system.  Jumping a river, casting a fireball, completing a single action, these are all task resolution.  There's nothing wrong with that, of course.  Each style of resolution has its purposes and advantages.  I was just expecting one thing and got another, but it didn't impede my understanding of the game.

There were some things that left me with a few questions in the traits section.  First, traits are given numerical values by group consensus.  Then the GM gets story tokens equal to one-tenth of the total.  So if there are characters with 4 in each trait, then the GM would get 4.8 tokens.  Do we round up? Down?  Is there any reason for the players not to choose to put 4 in each?

One thing I really like about the resolution system is that it rewards big successes.  For every three points your roll beats the target number when attempting an action, you get a story token.  That makes big successes really matter.  So if I win by 9, that's huge.  If I only win by 1, then I succeed at whatever it was I was trying, but nothing special happens.  That's great.

The game then moves on to explain exactly how the Story Token system works.  This is just a little confusing on how it would work out during play.  If players gain tokens for winning a roll against another character (PC or NPC) they can only use those tokens against that character in the future.  That seems strange to me.  Why aren't they transferable?

Another thing that bothered me was damage.  Let's say you're in combat.   You can only deal damage to a character by beating his player's roll by 6.  That seems really high.  But even if it isn't, all it takes is one story token to negate the damage.  That would make it really hard to kill somebody I would think.  This just seems like too much hedging on the part of the author.  If I understand combat correctly, I think it would be almost impossible to destroy a character unless the player was totally out of tokens.  The players are portraying Homunculi.  Their lives should be more disposable, IMHO.  Dr. Azazeal can always just make another to replace one that has ceased to function.  Also, they are fighting to save the world from evil incarnate bringing down the apocalypse.  What's a few human lives compared to that?  My suggestion here would be to increase the lethality of the game.

Speaking of killing a character, I do like one thing the author did here.  Reducing a character to zero in one trait knocks him unconscious.  I used a similar mechanic in my game.  A PC can only be killed by going to -5 in a trait during combat.  Since players can spend tokens to prevent damage, this gives them the opportunity to burn story tokens to hold on to life until the other players can come to the rescue- if I understand it all correctly.  If so, that's pretty neat.

All in all, the Rolling chapter could use some revision, but that's very understandable.  Of all the sub-systems in a game, I think resolution is the hardest to convey.  This goes doubly for a game entered in a contest where there is both a time and word count constraint.  I got the general idea, and I think once I got playing, I could figure it out on the fly.

The setting material that begins on page three is great!  It gives me enough to get totally interested in finding out more through play.  I can sense that Kyle was greatly inspired when he started writing this game.  I want to give him a big thumb's up on creating such an evocative setting.  I especially like the process through which a homunculus is made.  Very clever and enjoyable to read and think about.

The last two pages are a GM's Guide.  I know some people don't like the idea of a GM's only section in a book, but it's just fine with me.  There is a really cool reveal on the last page that I won't spoil for anyone who reads this review and plans to play the game.  None-the-less, it got me excited for the game.  I loved it.  I can imagine springing it on the players during play and watching their eyes light up.

There was one thing that the game left me wondering, tho.  The characters are given a very strong mission to accomplish.  They're empty beings, really, so there's no questioning whether or not they go on the quest to defeat Coyote. Which is great!  But I didn't get how they work against Coyote except to confront him directly.  From reading the text, I get the idea that Coyote only shows up when the world is at peace.  Consequently, as a person charged with preventing him from coming back or defeating him if he does, I would do my best to start subverting governments and fomenting wars.  I'd be assassinating kings, burning villages, and murdering bureaucrats all over the place trying to start trouble.  If the PCs can cause enough calamity, maybe Coyote won't come back.  And if he does, the nations will be geared up for war and able to take him on.  I don't think that's what Kyle had in mind (am I wrong?).  So, if there's one aspect of the game I think needs a little fleshing out is what the player-characters are supposed to do until Coyote shows up.  For me, it wasn't clear.

Relatedly, the Dark Side of Mimics also left me scratching my head a bit.  The author implies that the Mimics (Homunculi) kill off the people used as donors to make them.  I have to ask, why they would do that?  Does that harm Coyote in some way?  Is it related to the mission somehow?  The connection wasn't made strongly enough for me to get why the author included that.

There is a lot of stuff in this game I think Kyle wanted to develop more.  For instance, why Coyote's ability to take human form would matter, what mechanics the players should use that were mentioned in the post-endgame play in the very last sentence of the game, and the character of Dr. Azazeal himself.  But that's the beauty of Game Chef.  It gives you a start, and it's a start I hope Kyle continues to develop.

As for the ingredients and theme, Kyle nails it 100%.  Playing it once would be enough.  Characters lack any real individuality, so playing them a second time wouldn't yield a very different experience.  Coyote's stats are fixed, so the players would know exactly what they are up against.  Same goes for the endgame.  So as far as the conventions for the Game Chef contest go, he gets an A+ from me.

In short, I feel this is exactly what a one-shot RPG should look like.  The rules are simple.  Character creation is fast.  The setting is highly evocative.  Kyle has some great building blocks here to start with, but also a lot to work on if he wants to make it a finished product.  I definitely think the community would benefit from a finished "Constructs of Azazeal" so don't be afraid to work on it in a public space, Kyle!  I'd love to see this game finished and published in a few years.



Kyles Games

Ok, I really dropped the ball on some of the writing of CoA, just due to me freaking out over the word constraints:

As far as the setting goes, it's meant to be ambiguous and confusing in some ways just for the players' benefit and the Game Master being forced to choose interpretations; I loved the section in Eclipse Phase where they gave alternate theories, but wanted to see how deliberate inconsistencies presented as fact could cause people to interpret the game.

As far as terminology, I really sorta was in a hurry with Constructs of Azazael (spelling actually isn't important, in the game lore everywhere you see "ae/ea" in a name they're interchangeable with each other and "a" (though "a" is not interchangeable reversibly); so I made some sloppy mistakes. I chose the term "conflict resolution" because it highlights man vs. environment as a source of conflict and points out that the Game Master should be eligible to earn Story Tokens from failures there.

As far as GM story points, the issue is that story points are valued much more highly than trait values; 18 points is the average on the 4d8 roll, even if you max one trait you've only hit standard deviation, and though you can max multiple traits players will never be more than a couple standard deviations away from a difficult target. I didn't specify rounding partly because I was a little bit dumb (it was the second game I'd written that day on way too little sleep), but rounding up is appropriate. However, if players started with no traits, they could still win because of the fact that until they fought Coyote or Dr. Azazael they'd be on pretty equal footings.

I made it deliberately difficult for a player to die-banked story points can prevent the death (though I should state this explicitly in a future edition), damage is hard because homunculi are *TOUGH* and basically succeeding gets your goal done (you don't need to kill the guy in the blockade, just blow past him). Part of the idea is that even though the players are not perceived as highly valued they're still in superhuman or near superhuman realms. If I were to stat out damage for humans in the setting (which is actually my next major project, since I loved the setting I was writing so much), they would follow the Trait Rating system equivalent for health where they can take damage equal to roughly what they should be able to do in all fields combined before dying. Part of the idea of the Mimic is that they're so powerful (through arguably Faustian means) that they are really, really hard to kill, and the feel of them being sort of in a playground when dealing with all but really power foes is intentional-they were, after all, created by the legendary Azazael (and I won't spoil his true identity here either).

As far as the setting material goes, you can expect more on Aduelle coming out some time in May, hopefully starting with a profile of the capital city of Azekal, the most populous nation.

As far as the players being built to confront Coyote, it is perfectly logical for them to kill random people to lower the population so that Coyote won't destroy the world. He'd like that a lot, in fact. He's an equal opportunity destroyer, and if other people do his work for him, well, that's okay.Spoiler: He'd still try to kill the Doctor, though.

Kyles Games

And I clicked post instead of preview there.

Okay, continuing on with a wonderful double post!

The dark side of Mimics is meant to imply that they are created through taboo (depending on jurisdiction) blood magic; they don't hunt down their donors, they took vital components from their donors, meaning that they had to be killed (excepting the miners for the Lantern of Life, inorganic matter, and dead donors); should the donor survive they do have a psychological need to destroy their donor so that they can safely assume their form.

Side note on why lethality is so low: The Lantern of Life is also somewhat responsible for how tough the players are, it's their immortality ticket.

Post-endgame play isn't really play so much as one-sided stomping, so I didn't include stats because the characters have literally become that powerful. In addition, their psychology is permanently altered in such a way it would really be better to consider them entirely different (they're equivalent in some degree to Judeo-Christian angels, but Aduelle is built to be a very different world than ours, hence the cosmological differences). Doctor Azazael himself is a little bit of an enigma, but he'll be covered in great detail either in a subsequent edition of Constructs of Azazael to reflect the increasingly detailed setting or in one of the guides to Aduelle.



Kyle, I'm do glad you are going to pursue this game further.  If you start a blog for it or something, please link it here or at Story Games so I can follow.

After reading your response, I can see I underestimated how powerful the mimics  and that caused my confusion.  I get your game a lot better now!



Kyles Games

I've already got a placeholder page up for Aduelle which mostly just serves as a link to CoA.


Currently, the first thing that will be finished (unless I change course) is an experimental format city setting guide which I've already mentioned, which will include a map (the major hold-up), several elements of stuff such as population, lore, and secret areas to be related to trait ratings (the exact method of this will probably be fixed once I flesh out a little more of the game rules). Then I'll probably work to expand and clarify CoA.

Once that's done, I'm going to make a much longer and more general Aduelle Roleplaying Game which will cover explicit rules for "mundane" humans (everyone has magic, hence the quotes), and the whole continent in detail, and such.