Murder: A Game About Crows (http://www.1km1kt.net/rpg/murder) by Michael Mullen is a pleasure to look at, but I had a hard time reading it. I found myself overwhelmed by minor questions - not one big one as in, say, Haunted, but more like being nibbled to death by ducks. I finally had to admit that I not only couldn't play, but couldn't begin to play. The thing is, everything there leads me to think the answers are known, and easily resolved by a list for Michael to clarify, which is what I plan to provide here. My hope is that a new draft would then be very, very close to publishable.
I want to be as fair as I can manage, so I'm identifying two sources of confusion. The first may be do to a shifting of the character creation section to the back, or maybe not. It's the "Writing Forwards" concept, which unless I misunderstand the term, means you never bring in a term or idea in a familiar way unless you've already introduced and explained. I made a little mark in the margins every time I ran into this, and it shows up nearly every page. A related issue is simply not defining a term at all, such as Quality (which I could guess meant Wings and so on the character sheet) and Stance (which baffles me to this moment).
Fixing that shouldn't be that big a deal and I'm not going to make a federal case about it; I was able to get handle it by reading sort of from the front and from the back at the same time. But the other source of confusion was a lot harder: plain old incomprehension and uncertainty about what I was reading. As I mentioned above, the only thing I can think of to do about it is merely list the questions I accumulated as I went along. Some may seem trivial, or "oh come on," but I'm pretty serious in saying that even if the understanding was easy to guess, it remains a guess, making it impossible for me to tell if I were playtesting your game or one I've invented by reading your text.
Is there any content distinction between trinkets and treasure? I'm not talking about which pile, or the fact that treasures have Qualities written on them, just the fictional content.
Are the Scene piles created with the current Murderer looking at the cards, or merely sorted by type, at random?
All the cards created for the piles get used, yes?
They're arranged face down, right? (Again, they have to be given what else is said, but it doesn't say to do this; I had to go back and figure that out given what I read later.)
"Random starting flip" means the current Murderer doesn't know which pile is which? That seems unlikely. Shouldn't someone else choose?
What the flipping Sam Hill is a stance? How does it determine which Quality is being used?
Similarly, what is a "Quality Stance," as referred to at one point?
All the piles are sitting out there for play, right? So it's just that one has a starter card flipped? If that's right, why are they collectively called a series? (When I read "series," I immediately imagined a linear arrangement to be worked through in sequence.)
If you draw a new domino based on high/low results, do you place it right away?
After the first dominos are placed in a scene, what happens if hand size is tied?
"Assist in engaging" in the initial text about helping implies that the other crows are helping their fellow crow vs. the Murderer. But later text says they can play on either side. Does that mean in the Murderer's favor, or does that simply mean either end of the chain of dominos? And if they do unequivocally help the crow, doesn't that totally screw the GM's chances, tokens or no tokens?
Why would you ever choose a Quality that was disadvantaged by the current, revealed card? Is that only an interesting issue when you engage a new, totally unknown pile?
Do I have it right that engaging a new scene comes after taking one's stance (whatever that is)?
What good are "positive effects" that aren't trinkets? I can't see how they affect play in any meaningful way.
Why do ties do nothing? (I'd much prefer they go to the Murderer.)
Talent assessment (high/low) is reversed - is this on purpose?
Why would you ever have to take a Talent's sacrifice effect? Because you're winning on the other side of the domino comparison and it's worth it to you?
What do most of the sacrifices, the ones without explicit penalties of some kind, do mechanically? Does it matter to later play that my crow was blinded by the sun, for instance?
Why a whole paragraph regarding what's obviously a retarded move? it's fully voluntary, right? What am I missing?
Whoa - all the stuff about getting more tokens into the scene pile seems like a lot to keep track of. Also, if you discard a token to apply a negative trait, does that kick in the rule that you remove a token, for a net loss of two? Or maybe I'm missing something significant in the phrase "traits may be applied to stories." If so, what does that mean?
Why would an antagonist ever use a banned stance (or Quality, which is what it must mean here)? The Murderer is always working with a card that's face-up, right?
If both Treasure and Cause have been resolved, do I understand correctly that the GM can't use Tokens? is there a special meaning to the term "head-to-head" beyond "play against one another," which is what they do anyway?
Why is the Quality on the face-up card(s) called banned when it's only disadvantaged, since it's not fully disallowed from play?
In Evolving Qualities, is the right word may or must? if may (as written), then why would one ever choose not to improve, and why would one ever choose to take the hit?
What's an elder? How does a crow's role (the right hand side of the card) allow them to learn? In fact, I finally decided I don't understand this paragraph at all. I am just guessing that when you learn something from another crow, that crow loses it - is that right?
What does the task part of the character cards do?
What Qualities go with which Talents? There seems to be an alternate terms set in use in the Talents section.
Whew! OK, now for a more general issue.
Back in the old Ronnies over five years ao, I casually coined a term "parlor narration" to describe games in which the participants played some kind of move-around token or card draw or dice back-and-forth sequence, in quite fixed order, strategically/competitively or not, and describing fictional stuff is layered on top of that activity but really does nothing to it. The term turned out to be a real pain in the ass, people mixed it up with the ordinary and non-problematic term "parlor game" and asked why I "hated" parlor games, and blah blah blah.* So now I'll call it "follow-along narration," and clarify as well that I include "justify your move" talking as well as "play-and-talk" talking - they're both equally epiphenomenal to the mechanics.
I am thinking that this game might feature this problem. But! I've been fooled before by thinking a game was merely follow-along narration and then finding it wasn't via playtest. So I'm not making any flat judgment about that now. The trouble is, I can't figure out how to playtest, in order to get a better idea.
An updated version of this game will be released shortly.
My initial fears after the 24-hour intensive design phase have obviously played out...the game is basically unintelligible without some of the key text boxes that I forgot to include in my final hour (the period I set aside for quick page formatting).
It probably also doesn't help when I have used the word "Stance" in a method that doesn't gel with Forge terminology, and have acquired a few confusing artefacts from earlier text edits in the contest release draft.
I'll try to upload a more coherent version of the rules by this time tomorrow.
As a minor point, I am perfectly comfortable with game terms which are the same words as Forge jargon but mean entirely different things. I didn't have trouble with your term Stance because I wanted it to match the term in the jargon,* but because I couldn't tell what it was regardless of its name.
I'm really looking forward to the next draft of the game. There have been a few Watership Down role-playing games, of one sort or another. I regret that I have never owned or even seen a copy of Bunnies & Burrows, which by all accounts was not merely a parodic hack; and Clinton Nixon's Vermin, an early D20 game (possibly the first!), was woefully under-played. This one seems to me to be strangely and strongly evocative of Watership Down, the novel, and yet so different in terms of goals, roles, and insights.
* H'm, must use good citation - the term actually precedes any of my writings on the subject, having emerged from the r.f.g.a. usenet discussions.
Sorry I haven't had the chance to upload anything new about this project.
I'll be forfeiting this round, but I'll keep working on the project. Hopefully I shoud be able to get back to work on it soon.
I'm not sure what you mean by forfeiting. All submission and judging is over. From now on, everyone works on their games at their own pace and with as much mutual fun as possible.
Let me know if you were perceiving the Ronnies differently.
No...I do understand what the Ronnies is about...I guess I just wrote this the wrong way.
I basically just mean that this is going to sit on the backburner for a while.
But I'll be trying to get in some entries for later rounds if I get the chance.