[Uncle Louis] Ronnies feedback

Started by Ron Edwards, February 20, 2011, 06:58:13 PM

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Ron Edwards

Uncle Louis by Steve Mathers received the cryptic judgment of "other" in the results thread, but that's actually an honorable category in Ronnies history. Some of the really fascinating and ultimately published Ronnies entries of the past were just like this. Although there seem to be less of them in these 2011 rounds, for some reason. Anyway, the point is that the entry doesn't meet my notions - ill-formed as they might be - of what is and isn't a role-playing game. In this case, what I'm seeing is a card game with a fun and colorful narration accompaniment, which can be applied to whatever degree at any time (including not). I like these sorts of games, and my interest is satisfied or not pretty simply: whether the card game looks fun and whether the accompaniment is funny. In this case, I think it's a very strong starting draft.

Untoward thought: I have a terrible desire to see this game named "Louis Louis," with French pronunciation ...

OK, here are some thoughts of mine. The currency and dynamics of the card-play itself is hard to predict, so I leave that to playtesting and to your own thoughts, as in Uncle Louis update (split). As it stands, I'd love to try it.

It's kind of nuts with twice as many characters as cards, but I can handle it. The trouble is when the basic concept of who is who breaks down. I'm talking about the 6-rank cutoff, for either NPC or PC. It makes no sense to me at all. What would make sense is that the rank is always the SO, and indeed, the SOs are always the real characters, PC or NPC, and the male courtier characters who have suits and a place in the social hierarchy (but no numerical card rank) are a kind of pseudo-NPC, which I'll call simply "courtiers."

But for some reason, my character is the male courtier, not the SO. I don't get that. Why isn't my character that guy's SO, just like everyone else? And why can't I simply choose the gender of my SO (I get that all the courtiers are male)? Why can't we leave every single courtier as simply a courtier, with no actual voice in play except that they think they're saying and doing things on their own, most of the time?

It would also make sense to me that most narration prior to comparing values is about what the SOs are doing, and most of the narration after that is about what the courtiers are doing and have done to them.

I think all of that is much more consistent with your rules. Let's say I want a particular card taken out of play, and to keep it simple, the card I activate is my own, and the targeted card is yours. I say, "I kill him," but this is narrated as my SO getting her courtier (or someone) to kill the courtier/boyfriend of your SO - the point being that it's the courtier killing the courtier, but if it's successful, what I've really done is effectively taken that particular SO out of the pecking order.

It would also make the only complicated thing in the game be the difference between general and specific markers, which is hard enough for my poor brain.

Anyway, those are my thoughts, and count me as a fan of this design. It's a great implementation of the terms too.

Best, Ron


Quote from: Ron Edwards on February 20, 2011, 06:58:13 PM
Uncle Louis
It's kind of nuts with twice as many characters as cards, but I can handle it. The trouble is when the basic concept of who is who breaks down. I'm talking about the 6-rank cutoff, for either NPC or PC. It makes no sense to me at all. What would make sense is that the rank is always the SO, and indeed, the SOs are always the real characters, PC or NPC, and the male courtier characters who have suits and a place in the social hierarchy (but no numerical card rank) are a kind of pseudo-NPC, which I'll call simply "courtiers."

Hi Ron, My first draft was confusing when it drifted to talk of SOs.  I removed that concept totally -- Now the number of the card simply represents the Gender of the character, 1-5 male, 6-10 female.  end of story.   one card, one character, random gender.

Why cant you just chose the gender?  For PCs I suppose that makes sense, but I find the number is a good way of distributing genders for the NPCs, so may as well leave it the same for all characters.

What I would really find helpful is some of your thoughts on how to more closely tie the fiction to the mechanics and v.v.    If it helps, Ill break it down in RPG terms what we currently have to work with.  (variables for the mechanics to manipulate)

Each Pc has the following stats/attributes:

1) health - alive or dead
2) prestige
3) strength
4) weakness
5) relationships to other characters

the card pyramid is a shared character sheet showing all of these attributes, except weaknesses, which are revealed by play

there are a couple of forms of activity:

a)  player tells faceless peon to perform action (no persuasion of peon required, conflict revolves around peons being able to perform action)
b) player acts directly (no persuasion - character acts directly, conflict revolves around PC being able to perform action)
c) player persuades already influenced character to perform action (initial persuasion required by PC to get character to act, conflict revolves around first the persuasion and then the resolution of the action)

the 'action' refers to  espionage, an influence attempt or a murderous scheme.

d) resistance to both the persuasion and the action comes in the form of (general) tokens spent by other players. when they spend a token, they have the right to narrate resistance which makes the overall attempt harder.  the acting player can then respond in kind, back and forth.  i.e. all of the other players are GMs in this regard.

'specific' tokens only enter into it when a character involved is a PC, in which case the owning player may draw apon those tokens as well as general ones to resist.

what Ive been trying to think about is how to tie   a)->d) with 1)->5)  such that actually what occurs in the fiction can have real mechanical consequences.  that would classify it then as a funny little RPG, instead of a funny little card game, yes?

Please, any advice on that is what I need.


Ron Edwards

So, should I call you Steffen or Steve? Let me know.

The desire to write or play a 100% viable strategy game which is, in addition, a role-playing game, is very strong. It's one of those ideals floating around, I think. I also think it's unattainable.

That's not to say an RPG cannot be a strategic delight in all sorts of ways, nor that it cannot be about winning. I think there are lots of games for which that's the case. But I've reluctantly concluded over the years that a game you can play in full without being an RPG, isn't one, no matter how much you mandate that you have to say how your bishop feels when it zaps the rook. My take on many of the attempts to do so is that the two aims get in one another's way.

So then I look at games which make no claim to being an RPG at all, and which do not generate any actual fiction of interest, but which have hilarious or engaging semi-fictional contexts. The two I mentioned are certainly good examples, as are most of the Cheapass games. Cold War is maybe another; I haven't played it yet although I want to. The thing with these, though, is that the fiction is fun to talk about and use as a learning device, but it really, really doesn't affect play at all. It's like a fun lens to look at play through and that's it, despite the impression one might get from the rulebook or packaging which implies genuine procedural engagement with that side of the material.

One game of this kind which does try to create a kind of wargame-y, RPG-attached feel is Blue Moon, which I really like playing - but actually dislike seeing any such dialogue or pretense involved. For me, it's a savagely good card game and that's what I want to be there for; the pictures on the cards are wonderfully entertaining in their own right* and help me remember what they do mechanically, but that's all.

And then I look at games which are similarly not RPGs in any way, without even any mention of a fiction being made, and yet when we play, we personalize some of the characters or create fictional versions of the game-events as a part of the table-talk. Sort of like characterizing the queen when one plays chess as a bad-ass scary female figure, or saying of a pawn that finally gets taken after some surprising survival moments and one good kill under its belt, "There went a hero." But I"m thinking of games in which this isn't merely a curiosity but a pretty predictable phenomenon. The card game Condottieria is in this zone.

My thinking is that Uncle Louis* would do well to put aside the RPG-via-my-card-game ideal and be a great card game with one of the above degrees of fiction as lens, teaching device, and/or table-talk opportunity. This isn't a recommendation, though, because who am I to keep someone from trying it, when who knows, maybe one day it'll work. Maybe we need more dialogue about it. Anyone else's views about this topic are definitely welcome.

I am sort of sad to see the SO part of the game be put aside. My original notion upon reading was oh God, how many cards? And twice as many characters! Forget it! But then I got used to the idea and was led to the recommendation I made above, which is now apparently obsolete. Still, the core value to adhere to is playability, and if you think that's the better way to go, then I will follow along.

Best, Ron

* Plus the secondary and definitely out-of-game positive impact of the Mimix imagery. Ah, the Mimix. Sign me up.

** "Louis Louis, ohhh baby, me gotta go / Ah yi yi yi yi" (repeat)


Hi, call me Stefoid or Steve.  Ill answer to either.

I figure my SO stuff was not only confusing, but probably thematically wrong.  Prestige was about social standing within the court, specifically with the Royal family, so either gender had just as much chance of achieving that.  I suppose some characters could be married to other characters, but that is left for players to define with regard to the weaknesses that become apparent.

So at what point does a game cease being a strategic card game and becomes a gamist RPG?  What makes basic D&D an RPG, for instance, rather than a squad-based tactical wargame without a board?  My guess is that you'll say that fiction added by the players and GM means something.  Like If a player says "I grab the ring", and another player says "I drop it into the volcano", then thats it, the ring is gone.  The first player cannot now buy a +1 sword with that ring.  The fiction has consequences.

So if in Uncle Louis, the fiction has consequences, does that make it an RPG?   

Ron Edwards

Hi Steve,

That is a very consequential question and I have a little too much going on to address it. My short answer is that the term "role-playing" is a legacy term, without any definition, only associations with a wide number of activities. I was careful to specify that we are dealing with my boundary for recognizing the activity I'm interested in, not something I expect anyone else to share exactly, nor any referenced concept that we can all turn to. Another short answer is that your guess about fiction meaning something is not really my cutoff distinction for the activity (here called role-playing), or if so, not in that particular construction of phrasing. 

I hope this isn't read as a dismissal. I'll be happy to pick up the topic again at some time when I'm not jumping around like a crazy person, both on-line and off.

Best, Ron


Cool, Im interested in your opinion about that, so Ill wait.