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Archive => RPG Theory => Topic started by: Ron Edwards on May 09, 2004, 08:50:53 AM



Title: Mechanical gender differences II [Mongrel]
Post by: Ron Edwards on May 09, 2004, 08:50:53 AM
Hello,

I'd like to receive some comments which compare Ben's (Ravien's) game design to my proto-game for the Simulationism essay, Mongrel, in terms of character-gender-based rules in character creation, somewhat along the same lines.

Now, Ben took a lot of heat in the thread Mechanical gender differences (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=11095). Let's assume that all that same heat can be applied (appropriately, inappropriately, whatever your mileage says) to me, for my game. Let's also put all that aside as long as it pertains to actual people and society: such rules may be right or wrong, dumb or smart, justified or unjustified at the societal level. I'm OK with that.

What I'm interested in, and some people tried really hard to stay focused on this on the other thread, is this: for both Mongrel and for Ben's game, what are the gender-based constraints in the character creation process? Most specifically, how does each set of constraints relate to the other aspects of the game: well, poorly, can't tell, or what? (Adding "in play" would be best, but Mongrel has only been played a few times, and I'm not sure about Ben's game.) And finally, how do the two designs differ, and how might either be improved by considering the differences?

Open mike!

Best,
Ron


Title: Mechanical gender differences II [Mongrel]
Post by: neelk on May 09, 2004, 11:41:14 AM
Quote from: Ron Edwards

What I'm interested in, and some people tried really hard to stay focused on this on the other thread, is this: for both Mongrel and for Ben's game, what are the gender-based constraints in the character creation process? Most specifically, how does each set of constraints relate to the other aspects of the game: well, poorly, can't tell, or what? (Adding "in play" would be best, but Mongrel has only been played a few times, and I'm not sure about Ben's game.) And finally, how do the two designs differ, and how might either be improved by considering the differences?


The interaction between the age and the gender constraints don't appear to make  in-setting sense. From the description of the social setup as resembling early modern Europe, or Frank Herbert's Dune's high houses, I imagine that things like politics and family relationships are deeply intertwined, but I can't see how to use the rules to make a "scary dowager aunt" type character. More specifically, the canonical scary dowager aunt is a a dried-up old crone who is terrifyingly spry and active for her age and nigh-superhumanly knowledgeable about how society works, which knowledge she uses to pull off complicated social machinations on behalf of her relatives (who respond with a mix of gratitude and resentment).

So, I start the chargen process, and come to the point where I assign attributes. I set her Beauty to 2, because she's a withered and wrinkly old bat, and her Physique to 3. 3 is a little lower than average, but pretty darn good for a hundred-fifty year old woman staying alive through cybernetic organs, black magic, and sheer spite. (This doesn't add up to 8, but that's okay since she's an old woman and not about to win any fencing duels, and the rules permit lowering attributes.) Now, I discover that if a female character's Physique is higher than her Beauty, her max Social attribute is 4. This pretty much craters the plan to make a scarily competent manipulatrix.

What's more, this particular combination is specifically noted as prohibited in the rules. Why?


Title: Mechanical gender differences II [Mongrel]
Post by: rafial on May 09, 2004, 12:07:59 PM
Quote from: Ron Edwards
Most specifically, how does each set of constraints relate to the other aspects of the game: well, poorly, can't tell, or what?


Well, here's what bugged me the first time I read the rules for Mongrel.  Physique has a cascading mechanical relation to effectiveness all over the rules, but Beauty is never mentioned again except to say that you can soak damage with it.


Title: Mechanical gender differences II [Mongrel]
Post by: quozl on May 09, 2004, 02:53:36 PM
First, give a link: http://www.indie-rpgs.com/files/mongrel.pdf

Now, about the sex differentiation:

It's stupid and serves no purpose.  I don't know what you were thinking when you wrote that part and I have no idea of why it's there because I see nothing in the gameplay that cares about sex differentiation at all.

Like I said in the other thread, if it's not important in the gameplay, then it's not important for character creation.

P.S.  I'm being a bit more blunt here because I suspect Ron can handle it.


Title: Mechanical gender differences II [Mongrel]
Post by: Valamir on May 09, 2004, 04:48:09 PM
I'm going to disagree with you quite strenuously there Jonathan.

I drew alot of inspiration from Mongrel mechanics while working on Robots & Rapiers, and while nearly every mechanical parallel has since been purged from R&R through the iterative design process, I have spent some time studying the game.

The gender restrictions in Mongrel, IMO, are nothing short of brilliant.  In typical Edwardian style he spent nary a jot on explaining or justifying his design choices...a pet peeve I have with most of his designs, and of which he is well (and at times, painfully) aware.  But in all of Ron's designs the answers are there on the page, if you stare at it long enough, read it carefully, and most importantly of all don't read anything extra into it.  "Leave your preconceptions at the door" should be the opening words of all of Ron's designs.

Neel is guilty of failing to do this in his post above.  He sets about trying to design a specific character archetype that he brought in to Mongrel from the outside, and then criticises the rules for not allowing that archetype to be created.

However, therein lies the brilliance.  The fact that that archetype can't be created in the rules tells us a very very important fact about the Mongrel universe.  The archetype doesn't exist in the Mongrel universe...at least not commonly enough to be worth making it available in character creation.  Rather than search for traditional archetypes in the Mongrel universe, one should instead study the character creation rules to uncover what the actual Mongrel Universe archetypes are (again, my preference would be to have those spelled out, and likely if Mongrel were to be completed and the flavor text added it would be...although equally likely, not to the degree I'd want to see... Ron will hopefully kindly interpret my belaboring that point as as an ongoing friendly jibe at his expense).


So what does the trade off between beauty and physique tell us about the Mongrel Universe?  In one quintessential perfect embodiment of the principal of "system does matter" a simple attribute relationship in the character creation mechanics tells us a tremendous amount about the nature of the Mongrel setting without even a single piece of color or fluff fiction.

Bulging muscles are considered unseemly.  All of the celebrities in Hollywood who go to great lengths to appear buff and fit and rippled and ripped would be considered down right ugly by Mongrel standards.  In the Mongrel Universe, beauty is inversely proportional to physique.

From this we can conclude that a petite, waif-like, effete, perhaps even slightly sickly-to-our-eyes appearance is considered beautiful in the setting.  Elric would be down right lovely.  Strong buff Conan types...U.G.L.Y. ugly.

No color text, no fluff fiction, and yet in one simple line, 21 characters long including spaces, a wealth of setting information can be derived.

But that's not all.  We know much much more.  Let us continue.

Men are expected to put physique over beauty.  It is "ok" for a man to be strong, even though that makes them ugly, in fact, its socially expected.  Women on the other hand are expected to be pretty...which in this setting is defined more by Kate Moss than Angelina Jolie.  

Further we know that this is not a genetic thing.  Ron is not saying women are weaker than men because of biology.  This distinction is purely a social more.  We know that because the rule goes on to allow characters to violate the Men: Physique higher than beauty, Women: Beauty higher than physique rule.  If they do so, however, they are stuck with a Social status of 4 or less.

In other words, this expectation is the standard of the upper class.  The lower class are not expected to adhere to it.  But any upper class type who rebels against society's standard will find themselves the black sheep, with their Social Score cut off low.

So just imagine the legions of lowly underclass male servitors and fawning sycophantic hangerons in this setting who are all considered extremely beautiful due to their extremely low physique (and thus effete even sickly appearance).  No upper class man would look like that.  But we know that some men must...because society considers such an appearance to be beautiful and societies tend to surround themselves with beautiful things.  So here is a society of beautiful female scions where all of the men of equivalent social status are considered ugly...surrounded by lower class men of great beauty...

Once again with zero color and zero fluff we can begin to imagine what the courts and palaces (or what have you) of the aristrocracy must look like and begin to imagine character concepts like the upper class female who decides to be buff and strong and thus is ostracized with a curtailed social score.  Or the weak, effete lower class sycophant who is an accomplished boy-toy for rich society women while being constantly pursued by jealous, ugly (but strong) husbands.

And yet we know still more.  This definition of beauty is absolutely fundamental to all Mongrel society.  It is not clan specific.  We know that there is no clan in the game which adhers to a different standard of beauty.  This concept of beauty is universal in this setting, because the definition is built right into the attribute system, and the same attribute system is used for all characters regardless of house (of course, there is room in the final version of the game to come up with different matchups for different clans if desired, but until then...its universal).


We can continue in this manner and note that the social score is tied directly to age, which suggests a strong reliance on tradition and ancestor veneration, where the old are given more clout than the young.  Further we know that that clout is not simply proportional to actual calendar age, but the physical appearance of age.  We know this because Social is not tied directly to the year of birth, but rather to the Speed attribute.  It isn't until the individual is physically slowing down and losing their physical vitality that social respect is gained.

So once again, this isn't Ron commenting that all old people are wise but feeble.  But rather in this society, there is apparently the firm and long established belief/tradition that as physical vitality is lost, "something else" is gained.  That "something else" is not currently defined in the text as its written today, but we know it exists and we know its important enough to be given respect and for people to defer to it, because social clout increases as a result.

One could even speculate on the glimmerings of a "religion"/"philosophy" in society based on some cosmic karmic balance where it is held that the universe does not allow physical vitality to be lost unrewarded, and so replaces it with something else.  Whatever that something else is, is revered and it is assumed (perhaps accurately or inaccurately) to be gained as Speed is lost due to age.


All of this can be gathered from careful study of the interplay of the attribute system in this game.  I hold it up as a prime example of what can be done with attributes in a game beyond simply "everything is rated on a scale from x to y".

What differenciates Mongrel from Eclipse, is that in Mongrel, this gender and age distinction has a very clear, and very informative reason for existance.  Despite repeated inquiries, I have yet to see any similarly profound rationale for the differentiation in Eclipse.


Title: Mechanical gender differences II [Mongrel]
Post by: neelk on May 09, 2004, 05:16:19 PM
Quote from: Valamir

Neel is guilty of failing to do this in his post above.  He sets about trying to design a specific character archetype that he brought in to Mongrel from the outside, and then criticises the rules for not allowing that archetype to be created.


Nope.  I'm criticizing the game because the rules don't permit me to create character types that are common in the books and epoch that the game itself says the setting was modelled on. Those archetypes exist in the source materials mentioned in the game text; if they are really "outside", then those references shouldn't be in Mongrel at all.


Title: Mechanical gender differences II [Mongrel]
Post by: Jack Spencer Jr on May 09, 2004, 05:35:17 PM
For those who, like me, have trouble finding the the gender specific rules in the 12-page Mongrel pdf:
Quote
Attributes[/b]
The six attributes are Size, Spirit, Physique, Beauty, Speed, and Social. They are used primarily as target numbers and resource banks during play.

Size + Spirit = 8.
If Man is primary, then your Size and Spirit are both 4; if Beast is primary, then Size must begreater than Spirit; if Demon is primary, then Spirit must be greater than Size.

Physique + Beauty = 8
Choose your character's sex: male or female. If the character is male, then Physique must be higher than Beauty; if the character is female, then Beauty must be higher than Physique. These guidelines may be ignored, but if they are, then the Social attribute (see below) cannot exceed 4.


Speed + Social = 8
Choose your character's age: young, adult, or old. If the character is young, then Speed must exceed Social; if the character is adult, then Speed and Social may be chosen to any values that sum to 8; if the character is old, then Social must exceed Speed. Note that if you have chosen to ignore the gender guidelines, and if your character is Old, then Social must be taken at 4 and Speed must be dropped to 3 or less. After Attributes are chosen, any of them may be lowered if the player desires. No points are "gained" by doing so.


I quoted the entire Attribute section because I feel the context is relevant. It bears noting that Physique is in the pdf 23 times while Beauty appears 11 times. Aside from the above and sample characters, Beauty's appearance is here:

Quote
Armor lowers the initial Effect of damage. Damage may also be shunted to Beauty, decreasing  Beauty temporarily on a 1:1 basis. One point of this decrease in Beauty is permanent.


As noted above, the use for Beauty outside of being like additional armor is not present. There is no real advantage to having a Beauty score except to use it as additional armor.

This may be attributed mostly to Mongrel being a proto-game and, as such, unfinished. If it ever becomes finished, I would suspect these issues would be addressed.


Title: Mechanical gender differences II [Mongrel]
Post by: Valamir on May 09, 2004, 05:40:26 PM
Quote
One of the manuscript reviewers hated the Houses with a passion, considering it to be an example of
“habit and imitation” just like I criticized in the essay. My only defense, such as it is, is that I think a
Dune-like noble-house context seems right for the setting and Color, so I went with it.


I don't really want to argue with you Neel.  But the above reference is absolutely the only comment in the manuscript that refers to a book that I could find.  It is clear from the context that the games setting is hardly "modeled" on Dune, merely that the noble house structure is somewhat reminiscent of the houses of Dune.  

The only other reference to source material was with regards to the visual effects and flavor of action being like over the top scifi anime.  Doesn't say anything about society.  Is there some other reference you're drawing from that I missed?

If not, you extrapolating this into a whole range of "source material" that the "setting was modelled on" is actually a perfect example of the sort of bringing-in-stuff-from-the-outside, that I was talking about.  I don't see any source material mentioned in the games text that would lead me to assume those archetypes exist...


Title: Mechanical gender differences II [Mongrel]
Post by: Andrew Martin on May 09, 2004, 06:00:53 PM
Quote from: neelk
So, I start the chargen process, and come to the point where I assign attributes. I set her Beauty to 2, because she's a withered and wrinkly old bat, and her Physique to 3. 3 is a little lower than average, but pretty darn good for a hundred-fifty year old woman staying alive through cybernetic organs, black magic, and sheer spite. (This doesn't add up to 8, but that's okay since she's an old woman and not about to win any fencing duels, and the rules permit lowering attributes.) Now, I discover that if a female character's Physique is higher than her Beauty, her max Social attribute is 4. This pretty much craters the plan to make a scarily competent manipulatrix.


Page 4, Last paragraph:
After Attributes are chosen, any of them may be lowered if the player desires. No points are "gained" by doing so.

The withered and wrinkly old bat says to a friend, "in my youth, I was considered quite a stunner..."


Title: Mechanical gender differences II [Mongrel]
Post by: Ben O'Neal on May 09, 2004, 07:24:44 PM
I think this thread is starting to drift a bit...

After having a read of Mongrel, I'm inclined to agree with Ralph's assessment of the interactions and the assumptions that can be drawn from them.

However, as has been pointed out regarding the occurance and in-game use of beauty, you may be exhibiting The Problem. ie: the choice of gender may have a negative impact on character effectiveness given the focus of the game. This could be fixed either by providing a new focus conducive to the use of beauty, or simply give more uses for beauty within the current focus.

Quote
What differenciates Mongrel from Eclipse, is that in Mongrel, this gender and age distinction has a very clear, and very informative reason for existance. Despite repeated inquiries, I have yet to see any similarly profound rationale for the differentiation in Eclipse.

Really? What is this "very clear and informative" reason? Is it to promote the ideals of the setting? Surely you couldn't be that biased towards Ron as to see what is not there when you can't see what I have provided, and more importantly, that I have provided reasons why such reasons that you require are not necessary. [/hyjack, apology offered to Ron]

Quote
And finally, how do the two designs differ, and how might either be improved by considering the differences?

Surely I'm not the in the best position to comment on this, but the more I consider the differences, the more I can see common underlying themes. That is, they both tell players about the world, and about how they can play their characters. They also both tell players how they can deviate from the norm (In mechanics: Eclipse implicitly, Mongrel explicitly; In text: Eclipse explicitly, Mongrel implicitly), and the penalties for doing so. Of course, they achieve this in different ways, to different ends, but that's what makes them different games.

-Ben


Title: Mechanical gender differences II [Mongrel]
Post by: Ron Edwards on May 09, 2004, 08:06:46 PM
Hey,

Ben, you are of course free to do as you want, but I'm staying out of this conversation until a pretty extensive exchange of discourse is established. That's mainly because I'm interested in the answers to the questions I posed as others see them.

Maybe you'll consider doing the same, from the standpoint of "defense is unnecessary." After all, Eclipse is your game, right? You know you can publish it to say whatever you want. No one's approval here is necessary, so defending your decisions isn't either.

Again, I'm not speaking as a moderator, but rather as a fellow designer & player in very much the same siuation as you. I'm acknowledging the conflict-of-interest inherent in anything I post before the variables and issues emerge from others' discourse.

Up to you. 'Tween you and me, I think taking a "bye" for a while will save you a lot of stress.

Best,
Ron


Title: Mechanical gender differences II [Mongrel]
Post by: Ben O'Neal on May 09, 2004, 08:17:11 PM
Quote
Up to you. 'Tween you and me, I think taking a "bye" for a while will save you a lot of stress.

Sure, sounds good. I'm sure there's a saying somewhere about wisdom and heated youth, but I can't quite conjure it up at the moment. :)

Over and out.

-Ben


Title: Mechanical gender differences II [Mongrel]
Post by: neelk on May 10, 2004, 05:21:23 AM
Quote from: Valamir

I don't really want to argue with you Neel.  But the above reference is absolutely the only comment in the manuscript that refers to a book that I could find.  It is clear from the context that the games setting is hardly "modeled" on Dune, merely that the noble house structure is somewhat reminiscent of the houses of Dune.   The only other reference to source material was with regards to the visual effects and flavor of action being like over the top scifi anime.  Doesn't say anything about society.  Is there some other reference you're drawing from that I missed?


Yes, this is the other part:

Quote
Space travel among the three planets of the system is a commonplace, and the local forms of technology and occultism are hyper-developed. Current conflicts and resource crises have led to harsh, hotly-negotiated trading and living conditions, and society has become analogous to early modern Europe, in which families and organizations jockeyed for position and status in a dangerous, partly-fragmented society.


That, plus the over-the-top anime thing, make me think that the sorts of games that should be feasible in Mongrel are things like Wuthering Heights with Demons, the Count of Monte Cristo as Kung Fu Shapechanger, Frankenstein with Cybernetic Ninjas, Scaramouche with Spaceships, or the Man in the Iron Mask Forged in Hell.

Quote
If not, you extrapolating this into a whole range of "source material" that the "setting was modelled on" is actually a perfect example of the sort of bringing-in-stuff-from-the-outside, that I was talking about.  I don't see any source material mentioned in the games text that would lead me to assume those archetypes exist...


I think there's a very interesting difference in how we read games.

Here's how I read games:

1. First, I skim the whole thing, to get a rough feel for the game as a whole.

2. Then, I carefully reread any designer's notes, lists of source inspirations, and chapters on how to play. I do this in order to get a feel for where the author was coming from and where he or she wants the players to go during play.

3. Then, I reread the flavor text and setting information. This is basically always written without being double-checked against the mechanics, and as such it's useful for revealing what the author wants out of play, as opposed to what the game mechanics actually deliver.

My goal, with step 2 and 3, is to learn what sorts of things that I and the other players can bring into the game from outside that will cohere with what's already there. IMO, saying "don't bring stuff in from outside" is asking for the impossible.  The players always will (and indeed, must) do this; what the designer can do is give advice about good and bad places to look.

4. I read the mechanics, looking for possible inconsistencies with the impression that steps 2 and 3 gave me for what play should look like. I write potential problem areas down, and then run the game. (Note that "problems" are defined relative to what I have learned from steps 2 and 3 about the goals of play, and to what the particular group of players I have will like.)

5. In play, sometimes I learn that potential mechanics problems aren't problems in practice, and always I learn about things I didn't see that are problems in practice. At this point, the mechanics get tweaked, and step 5 gets repeated until we converge to a system that's reasonably satisfying for everyone in the group.

In Mongrel, I see a much weaker motivation for the mechanical differences between sexes than you do, because I don't put the mechanics in the driver's seat.  As a reader, the side-comment about Dune is more important to me than the character creation system, because it tells me something about the systems of signifiers that Ron was drawing upon while writing the game.


Title: Mechanical gender differences II [Mongrel]
Post by: Walt Freitag on May 10, 2004, 07:24:28 AM
Since I was active in the previous thread, I feel somewhat honor-bound to address Ron's question in this one. (I'm not stepping into Ralph and Neel's debate, though, which I find fascinating and would like to see it continued on its own terms.)

Let me warn readers that two different character modification mechanisms for Eclipse were referenced on that thread. One mechanism sets different starting values for different attributes based on gender, which are then added to by buying additional points at a fixed cost. Because of a maximum number of points that can be added to the inital value, this also imposes slightly different initial maximum values for different attributes depending on gender. The other mechanism reduces the point cost of attributes two- or three-fold, depending on gender, so that attributes represented as being characteristic of the gender require considerably fewer points to increase. In both cases these effects stack with similar modifiers for species and social class.

In the other thread, I described what I believe is the root of the problem many players have with gender modifiers of Eclipse's variety:

1. Players tend to assume that they will play characters of the same gender of the player.

2. Players perceive the system as penalizing them with decreased character effectiveness for character designs not conforming to built-in gender expectations.

Take either of those conditions away, and there's no problem. For instance, Trollbabe annihilates #1, making #2 meaningless. But #1 is usually in effect to some degree. "If you want your character to be a better archer, make him an elf" comes more naturally to most male players than "if you want your character to be a better archer, make 'him' a woman." Put #1 and #2 together, and you have players perceiving the system as penalizing them with decreased character effectiveness for certain character designs, because of the player's gender. Saying, in other words, things like: "Girl players can't unless they're willing to play opposite-gendered characters play warriors at the same effectivness level as boys with male characters can."

Both #1 and #2 can be matters of degree, rather than absolute yes/no conditions. So, how do Mongrel and Eclipse compare?

- Mongrel describes relatively alien characters and setting, with no "default vanilla human" player-characters. This reduces #1 somewhat. Eclipse also has alien characters and setting, which reduces #1, but to a lesser extent.

- Eclipse's finer granularity, more detailed character generation, and enormous advancement range focus more attention on effectiveness as an aspect of character design; this intensifies #2.

- Mongrel is explicitly focused on high-concept Sim, making it less likely that differences in character effectiveness will be seen as rewarding or penalizing players' choices. This reduces #2. Mongrel appears, from what's been presented so far, to support Gamism as at least a secondary priority or direction of possible drift, which intensifies #2.

Mongrel's gender-based constraints are less likely to be perceived as "girls can't play warriors" than Eclipse's, but it's not entirely in the clear. Some will still object, especially given the apparent relative ineffectiveness of the beauty stat.

Ron's body of other games and publications (especially Trollbabe and Sex & Sorcery) make me suspect that part of Ron's intention for the gender rules in Mongrel is to deliberately challenge #1 (for which putting on some stress via #2 is necessary). Most of the potential audience for Mongrel would probably be unaware of the other work, and therefore not pick up on that possibility, so I didn't take it into account in the assessment above.

- Walt


Title: Mechanical gender differences II [Mongrel]
Post by: quozl on May 10, 2004, 12:07:33 PM
Quote from: Valamir
I'm going to disagree with you quite strenuously there Jonathan.


This is what it boils down to for me:

Is the gameplay about the differences in age and sex?

In Mongrel as written, I think the answer is no.  The game is about "schemes of Houses and conflicts over resources... as well as conflicting Vows".  Therefore, having differences mandated in character creation that do not pertain to the "schemes of Houses" is unnecessary and bad design.


Title: Mechanical gender differences II [Mongrel]
Post by: Valamir on May 10, 2004, 12:24:41 PM
I'm afraid I don't follow you.

Quote
Is the gameplay about the differences in age and sex?


Can you define what you mean by about?

Seems to me the game is about an extremly bizarre setting where people are mongrel half breeds (third breeds?).  Seems to me that part of that bizarre setting is that frailty is considered beautiful, yet upper class men are encouraged to forgo beauty out of social duty to be strong.  Seems to me that the only penalty to not following this norm is to have Social restricted to 4 or less, which means anyone who's Social would be 4 or less anyway is pretty much not restricted.  A society where lower class men are able to be more attractive then upper class men.   Very bizarre indeed.

How is it bad design to encorporate setting detail into game mechanics?


Quote
In Mongrel as written, I think the answer is no. The game is about "schemes of Houses and conflicts over resources... as well as conflicting Vows". Therefore, having differences mandated in character creation that do not pertain to the "schemes of Houses" is unnecessary and bad design.


I disagree.  This is a high concept sim game.  The game is about exploring the color of the setting.  The schemes and conflicts are just convenient vehicles that allow the players to enjoy the scenery.


Title: Mechanical gender differences II [Mongrel]
Post by: rafial on May 10, 2004, 12:51:55 PM
Quote from: Valamir
A society where lower class men are able to be more attractive then upper class men.   Very bizarre indeed.

How is it bad design to encorporate setting detail into game mechanics?


Um, you just reversed engineered those setting details from the mechanics, so the question seems a little tautological.

I'm also curious about your identification of the Social attribute with social status rather than social facility.  The examples of play given (using social for lying) seems to imply the second, and the author also muses about the need for a separate score to track status.

Oh, and on the subject pulling a Dune archetype into Mongrel, the design notes on page 3 of Mongrel specifically mention "Dune-like" as starting point for the "noble houses" setting.

Woah.  This discussion has become weirdly scriptural.


Title: Mechanical gender differences II [Mongrel]
Post by: quozl on May 10, 2004, 12:56:59 PM
Quote from: Valamir
I'm afraid I don't follow you.

Can you define what you mean by about?

How is it bad design to encorporate setting detail into game mechanics?

I disagree.  This is a high concept sim game.  The game is about exploring the color of the setting.  The schemes and conflicts are just convenient vehicles that allow the players to enjoy the scenery.


By "about", I mean the conlfict, the issue being resolved, the theme, the premise of the game.  Mongrel is about exploring the setting.  As written, the setting is about the mongrels which are grouped into different Houses and are vying for power.  There is nothing in the setting detail about frailty/beauty and strenth/class and how it differs among the sexes.  

But, as you pointed out, the character creation mechanics do have that focus.  Why?  The setting is about political power but that's not what the character creation emphasizes.  That's schizophrenic design.  

Now, Ron could fix that by writing up a setting that details the issues of frailty/beauty and strenth/class and how it differs among the sexes.  Or he could change character creation so that it emphasizes political power instead.  But as Mongrel is now, it's a lot of neat ideas thrown together that don't make a good cohesive game.


Title: Mechanical gender differences II [Mongrel]
Post by: Christopher Kubasik on May 10, 2004, 03:58:29 PM
Okay,

Here's my take so far:

First, in terms of clarity, I appreciate Ralph's point that if one takes the time to crack open the game, play by the rules, and pay attention to the results, one will start to see how the game world of Mongrel is "supposed" to work.

However, this is a Sim game, and it makes no sense to me, since the whole point of a Sim game is to have fun successfully simulate something, to have to figure out what the heck I'd be simulating instead of actively simulating the cool world Ron has apparently created.  (Ron does cover this in the text, pointing out there'd be plenty of art and some color section --- but that doesn't change the fact that, as printed, as a GM I'd have to play out in my head the implications of the rules and create the proper color.)

Second, if I'm not mistaken, the gender rules as they currently stand are pretty goofy.  And I may well be mistaken.  However, if I'm not:

since Social is capped if a player blows off the Strength/Beauty gender requirements, and Social is apparently the target value for lies againts the PC and such, the implication seems to be that it's easier to lie to a man in Mongrel if he's attractive (rather than strong), and easier to lie to a woman in Mongrel if she's strong (rather than beautiful).  Yes?  I'm not sure.  But it seems it would tend that way.  Now, Ralph may yet have another brilliant exegesis on this matter waiting in the wings, and I'm looking forward to hearing it if he does, but so far there just seems something off about how Beauty and Social come into play.

Third:  The difference here, for me, between Mongrel and Eclipse on the blunt gender issue  is what Walt brought up several times on the first Mech Gender thread: player choice.  In Mongrel, at least, I can choose to be a tough ass woman or a male adonis.  There are consequences, per the nature of society, but it can happey.  (I'm not going to start the new thread on this, but the very appeal of RPGs often depends on fantasizing a new or better or different self -- to say to a man or a woman "You can't be the most beautiful person or strongest person on the planet because that's not real," seems to fly in the face of why some people 'really' play RPGs.  I don't get it.  But that might just be me.)

The fact that players have a choice of taking a penalty or not, not because they want to play a man or woman, but because they want to be a strong man, a beatiful man, a strong woman, a beautiful woman, seems less knee-jerk annoying to me than Eclipse's actual manufacture of potential caps for men and women.

Finally, as always, why.  Ben's answer on Eclipse was, "Well that's the way the world is."  Ron's answer hasn't been delivered yet.  Were' talking about a game where you can be some freakish borg mystic something or other who's mother was a spider-- and yet we're focusing on social status on men and women dependent on cultural assumtions.

Now, it's important to note that in Eclipse, the assupmtions are universal acrsso all cultures.  In Mongrel the assumptions are specific to a freakish, closed system of three worlds.  Thus, my knee jerk rejection of Eclipse because it says, "Every culture views beaty this way," wheres Mongrel says, "This culture is this way."  I can accept that there's no Wonder Woman, Warrior Amazon Princess, on the worlds of Mongrel.  What I can't accept is an RPG that says she can't exist anywhere.

But a lot of this is up in the air for me until Ron provides a) more color, b) a clear, here's what this setting is about so you guys can decide if you want to simulate or not explination.  To hold out on this means, as far as I'm concerned, I'm reading an RPG with a printing error.  For the purposesof this thread, he might want to deliver some more info sooner, rather than later.

Christopher


Title: Mechanical gender differences II [Mongrel]
Post by: Valamir on May 10, 2004, 06:45:26 PM
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Here's my take so far:

First, in terms of clarity, I appreciate Ralph's point that if one takes the time to crack open the game, play by the rules, and pay attention to the results, one will start to see how the game world of Mongrel is "supposed" to work.

However, this is a Sim game, and it makes no sense to me, since the whole point of a Sim game is to have fun successfully simulate something, to have to figure out what the heck I'd be simulating instead of actively simulating the cool world Ron has apparently created. (Ron does cover this in the text, pointing out there'd be plenty of art and some color section --- but that doesn't change the fact that, as printed, as a GM I'd have to play out in my head the implications of the rules and create the proper color.)


This doesn't really seem very fair to me.  The game is hardly in a stage of completeness at this point.  I believe Ron does have plans to release the game at some point so I'm sure there will be more to come.  If you'd just shelled out $10 bucks for the PDF I'd be right there with you, but color and flavor stuff is the easiest damn thing in the world to write, especially when you've got a system that pretty much demands certain assumptions in order to be consistant with the mechanics.

I'm not sure what the reluctance is to reverse engineer the setting from the system.  If we believe that system does matter then clearly if we start with a setting we have to craft mechanics that consistantly support that setting.  Why shouldn't the reverse be true?  If you construct the mechanics first you then have to craft the setting that is consistantly supported by those mechanics.  Seems perfectly reasonable to me.

Is there something sacred about setting that demands it be realized first in order to be more valid?  Seems to me that Ron's design order is ideally suited to high concept sim.  First get the high concept, then craft the system that realizes that concept, then mine the mechanics for aid in filling in all the cracks and crevasses with appropriate details.

Where's the problem?


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Second, if I'm not mistaken, the gender rules as they currently stand are pretty goofy.


I don't understand this.  There are no gender rules.  There is A gender rule.  Men must set physical above beauty.  Women must set beauty above physical.  If this is violated, the character has broken a social norm and pays the penalty.

How is that goofy?

Doesn't seem all that different from stock Victorian assumptions about gender to me.  Is it goofy because this is ostensibly a sci-fi far future setting and yet the attitude towards gender roles seems anachronistic?  Is it goofy because it violates our nice comfortable Star Trekian notion that in the future all people will be perfectly equal without social pressure to conform?  Why is it goofy?



Quote
And I may well be mistaken. However, if I'm not:

since Social is capped if a player blows off the Strength/Beauty gender requirements, and Social is apparently the target value for lies againts the PC and such, the implication seems to be that it's easier to lie to a man in Mongrel if he's attractive (rather than strong), and easier to lie to a woman in Mongrel if she's strong (rather than beautiful). Yes? I'm not sure. But it seems it would tend that way.


I think its far simpler than that.  Just because there is a road from point A to point B, and a road from point B to point C, doesn't mean there's a road directly from point A to point C.

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Now, Ralph may yet have another brilliant exegesis on this matter waiting in the wings, and I'm looking forward to hearing it if he does, but so far there just seems something off about how Beauty and Social come into play.


I'll give it a shot.  Beware...uncharted waters ahead.

People are easier to lie to when they have a low social score.  That much can be gleaned from the rules, although its equally likely that it was a quick and dirty example to illustrate the die rolling mechanic, and not necessarily a thoroughly thought out example in terms of the rest of the implications, but lets work with what we have.

What do we know about Social?  We know that Social cannot be defined as raw natural charisma (unless there really is some mystical force at work we don't know about).  We know that Social cannot be solely raw natural charisma because there is a penalty to it for failing to adhere to proper gender standards.  That penalty (capping at 4) is fairly mild for young characters, because a young character can't have a social above 4 anyway.  A young character is actually free to set beauty and physique to any proportion they want without suffering any immediate repurcussions.

This suggests a culture where the young  are given freedom to do as they will until some point where they are expected to own up and take their "proper" place in society.  Mennonites are alot like this with young Mennonites driving cars, listening to heavy metal, getting into fights (and actually being a key player in drug trafficking in the state of PA) until such time as its time for them to settle down and start a family.  Some interesting inspiration to be gleaned there.

What point does this change come in...it comes in at whatever point age would have reduced Speed to 3, because its at that point that Social should go up to 5 and can't if the Beauty / Physique violation is still present.  That suggests this "coming of age" time is not 13, or 16, or 21, but likely much older, perhaps as high as 40.  The ground gets shakier here because we don't have aging rules or flavor text on how old people live or if there's any age differences among breeds, and that sort of thing.  We also don't have any indication of what happens if a character's Speed is arbitrarily reduced (say by amputation)...does Social automatically increase, or is the character stuck with an attribute pair less than 8?  The mechanics don't tell us that yet, but careful analysis of them does tell us that the designer will need to think of an answer and work it into both the flavor text and provide any necessary system guidance.

The rules do suggest a key potential area of conflict.  The old vs. the young.  It is perhaps too extreme to postulate that the government is some form of geriocracy, but it seems clear that if the young are limited to social less than 4 while the old are guarenteed social at more than 4 that there is a key age based divide somewhere.  Given the anime influence we may draw some inspiration from Japanese society (or at least society stereotypes).  

I think at this point we can safely conclude that Social is an entirely artificial cultural construct.  We know that social climbing is limited if you don't obey cultural norms.  We know that the aged are given more social clout than the young (and without any immediate biological, mystical, or technological rationale for that, occams razor suggests its a social construct as well).  And most tellingly we know that all young people have social of 3 or less.  Since it would be a far stretch to postulate a world where all young people are socially inept and have poor charisma, we must conclude that young people have a full range of personal charisma.  We must then conclude that since even the most charismatic youth will still have a low social that social must indeed be an artificial construct and not a measure of natural ability.

We must further conclude that since there is no other measure of natural charisma in the game, that personal charisma must take a very distant back seat to other social parameters (such as seniority).  This has a wonderful parallel in the 18th and 19th century British Navy where an officer who was commissioned 1 month before you was your irrefutable superior even if you were talented and he a boob.  Wonderful play opportunities there.  How to manuever your character through such an environment to get what you want?


If we accept that social is artificial then we can proceed to analyse what it means to use Social as the target number for lying. Two possibilities come immediately to mind, either of which may be sufficient, but a combination is even more plausible.

1) The "lies" are simply accepted in the same way that Illusionist GM techniques are accepted.  They aren't believed, they're just turning a blind eye to them.  One can easily see the following Victorian-esque exchange between a high social female caught by a low social servant in questionable circumstances with a man not her husband.

"Nothing is going on"
"yes mum"
"Schroeder was simply instructing me in some eastern relaxation techniques"
"yes mum".

Clearly the lady is lying and clearly the servant is going through the appropriate motions, because contradicting ones betters is not socially acceptable.

Combine this with some Japanese notions of saving face and gaining personal honor by helping another save face, and one can see how one can get the same (or similiar) end result of lying to someone, but because Social is an artificial construct, so is the lie and all of the efforts to maintain the illusion of it an artificial construct.  In fact, this situation is potentially far more interesting than the standard alternative of the liar being super convincing and so simply believed.

In fact, this situation reminds me alot of the Douloi (sp?) for those who've read the Exordium series (the single most perfect science fiction series for making aliens truly alien and making future human cultures truely interesting and unique).


2) Training.  Those with the Lie skill learn the techniques of lying, learn the techniques of making a statement and commanding the complicity of others.  These techniques rely on being able to bring social pressure to bear and since it is easier to bring social pressure on the lower social orders than the upper, it is easier to lie to them.  If the lord says the sky is green then the sky is green.  If the lord says today is tuesday, then today is tuesday.  In such an interpretation a "lie" becomes not so much trickery as a form of command.  A command (drawing upon all of the cultureal complexities of society) to accept something that isn't true whether they believe it or not.

Is this a bit of a stretch?  Clearly.  But there is nothing in the text at this point to contradict such an interpretation, and there is solid historical precident for this sort of situation.  It would take a good bit of color text and setting material to support this interpretation.  It would take a bit of caution in crafting examples that fit within this framework.  But it isn't unreasonable.


An interesting additional feature falls out of this analysis.  The culture is not in jeopardy.  As Jonathan noted, the game is not "about" these things in the sense that the purpose of playing will be to see if the structure of society collapses on itself through the actions of the players (unlike say, Robots & Rapiers, where that is exactly the purpose of playing).  

Social and Beauty are Attributes.  The Social Attribute is used as a target number for lies.  There is no allowance made in the rules for a group of people who simply refuse to abide by these social norms.  This is not simple flavor text with the final note that "players are free to break and challenge these norms".  The social norms of Mongrel cannot be challenged, because they are permanently and immutably embedded in the mechanics.  Whatever other issues are threatening the worlds, a break down in the social fabric is not one of them.  Individuals may question, may chafe at the restrictions, may even rebel...but they will not and cannot make a dent in the social order...because that social order is part of the game mechanics and cannot be altered without rewriting the rules.

That's pretty powerful stuff I think.  The idea of rebelling against unfair authority and challenging social norms...even if it ends tragically ala Sparticus, or James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause is a pretty powerful one, at least in the American Psyche.  But in Mongrel that's not an option.  There can be no revolt against unfair authoriity in Mongrel...even of the tragic kind (save of the sort of dutiful servant who lives and dies miserable and unfullfilled and counts up his small petty victories such as the time when he willfully put too much paprika in madam's dinner).  

Taking away options is a powerful statement.  I find the idea that Social is a completely artificial contruct that the player characters are absolutely powerless to buck against to be strangely compelling.  The kind of thing that gets one in the mind set to write terribly touching haiku before committing seppuku


How'd I do?


Title: Mechanical gender differences II [Mongrel]
Post by: Christopher Kubasik on May 10, 2004, 07:29:44 PM
Hi Ralph.

A suggestion.  Take off your hat.  Sit a while.  Slow down.

You seem determined to defend Ron's first efforts with a frantic quality that seems completely at odds with my comments.

You say it's unfair for me to comment on lack of background detail.

Well, in the first post on this thread, Ron wrote: "...what are the gender-based constraints in the character creation process? Most specifically, how does each set of constraints relate to the other aspects of the game: well, poorly, can't tell, or what?"

I'm claiming (and it's my right to claim here, as Ron invited it), that I find the relationship between the gender-based constraints in the character creation process and the setting (which is another aspect of the game), is poor.  Currently.  That's all.

As for fierce defense with my disappointment that it's not egalitarian Star Trek.  No.  The goofiness referred to the Social cap penalty that would apply to social interactions.  Right now, it seems goofy.  To me, at least. (And remember, I write the chargen would "tend" to cap Social if you broke the gender limitation.  I never claimed a road from A to C.)

As to your justification for this, I think it was lovely.

However, just before you began your three manuscript page count justification for this, you wrote of my concern, "I think its far simpler than that."

Well, no.  You wrote three typed pages, filled with conjecture, justification, guesswork, poetic and artistic sensibillity -- which might all fall apart in a second if Ron were to walk in here and say, "Actually, Ralph, it's like this...."

Ultimately, Ron didn't say, "I'm still figuring this out, bear that in mind..." when he started this thread.  He asked us to point out what wasn't clear between the gender limitation and the rest of the game.  I stand by my statement that in a Sim game, if what you're simming isn't clear, something's out whack.  If I have to infer off the top of my head what the world is like (as you've done in your posts), I might find three sessions in we were wrong -- which blows the point of simming.

It's not a big deal.  I'm not saying all strored electronic copies of Mongrel should be magnitized, that all the PDF that were downloaded should be delted.  Ron asked a question, I answered.

But I loved your answer on the world background, and thank you for it.

I don't doubt for a second that Mongrel would be a cool world worthy of some sort Gene Wolfe style RPG game (and that's not something you get to say everyday!).  But that doesn't change the fact that as it stands, neither you nor I know exactly how the gender limitation would connect actually to the world sim.  Which, I think, is a point worth bringing up considering Ron's request.

Christopher


Title: Mechanical gender differences II [Mongrel]
Post by: Walt Freitag on May 10, 2004, 08:25:23 PM
Since Ron has persuaded Ben to spectate for a while, I'm going to speak up about some of Christopher's points about Eclipse, which I believe might be overstated.

Quote from: Christopher Kubasik
Third:  The difference here, for me, between Mongrel and Eclipse on the blunt gender issue is what Walt brought up several times on the first Mech Gender thread: player choice.  In Mongrel, at least, I can choose to be a tough ass woman or a male adonis.  There are consequences, per the nature of society, but it can happen.  (I'm not going to start the new thread on this, but the very appeal of RPGs often depends on fantasizing a new or better or different self -- to say to a man or a woman "You can't be the most beautiful person or strongest person on the planet because that's not real," seems to fly in the face of why some people 'really' play RPGs.  I don't get it.  But that might just be me.)

The fact that players have a choice of taking a penalty or not, not because they want to play a man or woman, but because they want to be a strong man, a beatiful man, a strong woman, a beautiful woman, seems less knee-jerk annoying to me than Eclipse's actual manufacture of potential caps for men and women.


Actually, Eclipse doesn't make such choices impossible either. As I warned before in a previous post, two different mechanisms for gender in Eclipse have been discussed. In one of them, the cost of attribute points varies for different attributes based on character gender. It remains possible to create e.g. the tough-ass woman if one is willing to make sacrifices for it. (Because the cost difference is substantial, the tough-ass woman might be at a very large disadvantage in overall effectiveness.) In the other mechanism involving fixed adjustments to the attribute score and a cap on how many points can be purchased for each attribute, an attribute maximum is in effect at character creation, so that a female character's maximum initial strength might be 14 while a male's is 16. However, these maxima apply only at character generation, while with character advancement the attribute scale goes all the way up to 100. Apparently no starting character will be anywhere near the strongest or most beautiful regardless of gender. The maxima at char gen do represent a "hard" gender-based constraint on character choice, but it's also a rather trivial constraint in the overall scheme of things (relative to the much greater constraint of being limited to attribute scores of about 16 on a scale that goes to 100).

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Finally, as always, why.  Ben's answer on Eclipse was, "Well that's the way the world is."  Ron's answer hasn't been delivered yet.  Were' talking about a game where you can be some freakish borg mystic something or other who's mother was a spider-- and yet we're focusing on social status on men and women dependent on cultural assumtions.

Now, it's important to note that in Eclipse, the assupmtions are universal across all cultures.  In Mongrel the assumptions are specific to a freakish, closed system of three worlds.  Thus, my knee jerk rejection of Eclipse because it says, "Every culture views beaty this way," wheres Mongrel says, "This culture is this way."  I can accept that there's no Wonder Woman, Warrior Amazon Princess, on the worlds of Mongrel.  What I can't accept is an RPG that says she can't exist anywhere.


I believe I recall reading that a few specific species in Eclipse have low gender dimorphism and characters of those species dispense with the gender modifiers. Furthermore, I believe that Eclipse is intented to have its own setting which isn't written yet. I'm not sure that makes any difference in the quoted point, but since the purpose of the thread is to compare, the comparisons might as well be as accurate as possible.

In both games, the issue comes down to adverse consequences for the character in the shared imagined space of having characteristics that differ from certain built-in genre-based expectations. The differences appear to be in to what extent those adverse consequences are likely to be seen as penalties to the player (which in turn is related to potential applicability of Step On Up to play in the system and hence the Sim coherence of the system), and to what extent the system's characteristics support or challenge the default expectation of character gender being the same as player gender. In both these areas I see differences in degree rather than in kind between the two systems.

- Walt


Title: Mechanical gender differences II [Mongrel]
Post by: Christopher Kubasik on May 10, 2004, 08:33:01 PM
Okay.