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Title: [General Mud] Ronnies feedback
Post by: Ron Edwards on January 03, 2006, 11:44:42 AM
General Mud (http://www.1km1kt.net/rpg/General_Mud.php) by Rob Macdougall wins the sole High Ronny for this round

Where do I start? This is a beautiful piece of work, specifically because of the diverse possible outcomes and themes. Until about three-quarters through, I figured it was merely a dialogue-based homage to Animal Farm, but it's not. Can the Soviet survive? Is the General's ascendancy a long-term curse to its downfall? Are bourgeois notions, in moderation, compatible with a secure economy? This should be taught and played in history classes.

Granted, I haven't run any numbers or tried it out myself, so there may be Currency issues. I don't see any at first glance, so the next step is probably play.

I'll have to come up with some constructive comments, somehow.

1. Let us know what sort of publication format and commercial goals you have in mind for this. Pehaps something that includes the dice, or for which a set of perfectly-suited dice are available, as with Bacchanal? Although I love the illustrations, the question is whether they're freely available for commercial use, and if not, what might you do instead?

2. Encourage opening up the range for player-characters. I'd like to play a rat from the barn, basically Templeton; I could see some neat possibilities from including house pets who are now "on the farm," and perhaps even an escapee from another Farm. Stuff like that, without trying too hard for exact historical personages.

Finally, here's an interesting quandary. Right now, I'm trying to frame a post to answer Victor's questions in [Stalin's Story] Ronnies feedback (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=18194.0), in which I'm going to claim that playing Stalin and arbitrating play isn't functional, or at least, isn't reliably functional for me. Whereas in this story, you do have someone playing General Mud, who does have GMing responsibilities too, and yet I'm saying it's brilliant, wins a full award, blah blah. Any comments on the differences? I think it'll be a useful comparison.

Best,
Ron


Title: Re: [General Mud] Ronnies feedback
Post by: Rob MacDougall on January 03, 2006, 02:58:53 PM
Ron, et al

First, thanks! For the feedback, the flattering praise, and the contest in the first place. The contest did for me exactly what it was supposed to, I think: got someone who'd noodled casually with ideas for games but never done any more than that to actually put something out there for the world.

Until about three-quarters through, I figured it was merely a dialogue-based homage to Animal Farm, but it's not. Can the Soviet survive? Is the General's ascendancy a long-term curse to its downfall? Are bourgeois notions, in moderation, compatible with a secure economy? This should be taught and played in history classes.

Hee. Given my profession, I actually could run it in a history class - I wonder if my dept. chair would approve.

Seriously though, I'm very happy that those questions came through in reading the text. That's what I was charged up about in writing the game. In a way, its thematic guts are in the ways the different colored dice move around the table after each turn: selfless actions help the Soviet in the short term but help the General in the long term, selfish actions the reverse, sort of. But I worried that readers less careful than you would just see it as convoluted.

Just have time for this quick post now, but I'll be back again with more later, addressing your two questions and one quandary. I saw Victor's "Stalin's Story" immediately after posting General Mud back in November and was struck by the similarities between our games. In the thread on that game, Troy Costisick suggests making it possible for the other players to overthrow Stalin - which would make the parallels between our games even stronger! I'll take a look at Victor's game again and try to comment in his thread as well.

Thanks again!
Rob


Title: Re: [General Mud] Ronnies feedback
Post by: Malcolm Craig on January 06, 2006, 02:24:07 AM
I must say I thoroughly enjoyed my recent reading of 'General Mud'. The characterisation of Soviet revolutionary politics is extreme well done, with great potential for competition between varying strands of ideology within the game.

One thing which did confuse me slightly was the use of the Red Banner and the creation of an uprising.

It's stated that "If the number of red banners flying exceeds the number of black marks on your character sheet, you may try to rebel against General Mud by declaring an uprising..." Now, does this mean that only those with black marks, those who have been sent to the Glue Factory, can actively instigate an uprising? Or, can any Proletarian Comrade instigate an uprising with no black marks against them, as soon as a single red banner is unfurled?

I like the potential that only those who have been to the Glue Factory and witnessed the horrors of the gulag can be active in turning against the regime of General Mud: they have seen the dark underbelly of the Revolution and are willing to strike out against it for the good of the people (or, perhaps for less comradely reasons?) However, it's slightly unclear at the moment (unless, of course, your intention is that any PC can instigate an uprising without having to have black marks.)

Cheers
Malcolm


Title: Re: [General Mud] Ronnies feedback
Post by: contracycle on January 06, 2006, 06:11:29 AM
I must say I thoroughly enjoyed my recent reading of 'General Mud'. The characterisation of Soviet revolutionary politics is extreme well done, with great potential for competition between varying strands of ideology within the game.

No, it isn't.

It's perfectly valid as a game but should not be confused with real events.  It's a continuing irony that Animal Farm is seized upon by both left and right as critical of their opposition, the right believing it is a critique of Communism and the left - probably more correctly - taking it as a critique of Blanquism.

It is more correct to say that the game represents an articulation of a particular (McCarthyist) historiography of the Revolution.  Note, as is common with Bourgoeis critiques, the First World War is entirely missing.  After all we wouldn't want to muddy the waters by introducing actual material conditions as these might undermine our projected and abstracted psychological drivers.


Title: Re: [General Mud] Ronnies feedback
Post by: Malcolm Craig on January 06, 2006, 06:35:15 AM
I must say I thoroughly enjoyed my recent reading of 'General Mud'. The characterisation of Soviet revolutionary politics is extreme well done, with great potential for competition between varying strands of ideology within the game.

No, it isn't.

It's perfectly valid as a game but should not be confused with real events.  It's a continuing irony that Animal Farm is seized upon by both left and right as critical of their opposition, the right believing it is a critique of Communism and the left - probably more correctly - taking it as a critique of Blanquism.

It is more correct to say that the game represents an articulation of a particular (McCarthyist) historiography of the Revolution.  Note, as is common with Bourgoeis critiques, the First World War is entirely missing.  After all we wouldn't want to muddy the waters by introducing actual material conditions as these might undermine our projected and abstracted psychological drivers.

Obviously our points of view differ on this particular issue and perhaps I should have striven for greater clarity in my previous post. I was not suggesting that the game simulated the actual events of the Revolution, but characterised the revolution/revisionism/purge/revisionism (and so on and so forth) cycle very well. In game context, the First World War (or, indeed, the Civil War) could easily be represented within the tales of the revolution told in the initial stage of the game, if you wish to draw a firm parallel between actual and in-game events.

Cheers
Malcolm


Title: Re: [General Mud] Ronnies feedback
Post by: contracycle on January 06, 2006, 07:23:07 AM
Obviously our points of view differ on this particular issue and perhaps I should have striven for greater clarity in my previous post. I was not suggesting that the game simulated the actual events of the Revolution, but characterised the revolution/revisionism/purge/revisionism (and so on and so forth) cycle very well. In game context, the First World War (or, indeed, the Civil War) could easily be represented within the tales of the revolution told in the initial stage of the game, if you wish to draw a firm parallel between actual and in-game events.

Perhaps, but it is of course precisely that cycle of revolution/revisionism/purge/revisionism as it appears in Bourgeois revolutions that Marxism attempts to break.  Thats exactly why it exists in the first place.  And its methodology for breaking that cycle is to rely exclusively on material analysis rather than the moralist analysis endemic to bourgoise politics.  The above model applies much more precisely to the emergence of the First Citizen, Napoleon Bonapart, from the French revolution conducted by the bourgoisie.  In order to force this pattern to fit the Russian revolution a substantial quantity of history, essentially the preriod under Lenin, has to be ignored, and thus we skip straight from Tzarism to Stalinism without even asking how or why that happened.  Such as the virtual elimination of the proletariat as a class during the Civil War, or the systematic burning of crops and sundry massacres of workers by White forces.

Now as I say, I don't have any objection to it as a game; after all one of my favourite games of all times is Kremlin, in which secretive factional control of individuals and the purging of opponents is the subject of play and a great deal of fun, being cartrierd out in a black-humoured manner.  And I don't disagree that the above is a reasonable approximation of the dynamic that appeared under Stalinism.  Its the failure to distinguish between Stalinism and the Revolution, and the conflation of the two, that suggests an adherence to McCarthyist historiography.  To pose the question as to whether soviet "ideals" can survive is off the point, as the soviets have already lost power as soon as General Mud appears - and General Mud appears automatically as an artefact of system.  Thus the game appears to me to systematically answered the very question it proposes.


Title: Re: [General Mud] Ronnies feedback
Post by: Ron Edwards on January 06, 2006, 07:45:57 AM
Hiya,

Gareth, this is great. As it happens, I agree with you about the "Tsarism-to-Stalinism" revisionism problem with not only the text of Animal Farm, but also with history as commonly taught in U.S. schools.

Therefore, what do you make of the potential, in the game, for reversing the outcome of the Animal Farm storyline? In other words, denying the moralistic inevitability of the bourgeois analysis and leaving it up to the judgment and values of the actual, living people in the creative group?

I was impressed by that potential. If the game were a polemic reinforcing the point of Animal Farm as a text, period, then it would definitely not have gained a Ronny. So I'm interested in whether you see it there as well, or if not, why not.

Best,
Ron


Title: Re: [General Mud] Ronnies feedback
Post by: Malcolm Craig on January 06, 2006, 08:02:41 AM
Perhaps, but it is of course precisely that cycle of revolution/revisionism/purge/revisionism as it appears in Bourgeois revolutions that Marxism attempts to break.  Thats exactly why it exists in the first place.  And its methodology for breaking that cycle is to rely exclusively on material analysis rather than the moralist analysis endemic to bourgoise politics.  The above model applies much more precisely to the emergence of the First Citizen, Napoleon Bonapart, from the French revolution conducted by the bourgoisie.  In order to force this pattern to fit the Russian revolution a substantial quantity of history, essentially the preriod under Lenin, has to be ignored, and thus we skip straight from Tzarism to Stalinism without even asking how or why that happened.  Such as the virtual elimination of the proletariat as a class during the Civil War, or the systematic burning of crops and sundry massacres of workers by White forces.

Whilst I agree that there are important differences between Marxist and bourgeois revolutions, I'm not entirely sure that the Leninist period can not fall within the scope of the game, for example:

The revolution takes place and the Soviet of Beasts is set up.
General Mud comes to the fore (in the form of Lenin.)
Through the process of the game a parallel emerges between the game and the Leninist idea of 'war communism' conducted during the Civil War (perhaps General Mud has inserted this conflict as an external force during the Trials?).
'War communism' leads to an uprising on the part of some or all members of the Soviet of Beasts (the Kronstadt Rebellion perhaps) which may or may not be successfully put down by General Mud (in reality it was, but led directly to a whole host of new policies and so forth).
General Mud then embarks on a lengthy critique of his opponents (similar to the Lenin critique of Trotsky and Stalin)

Of course, this is a very loose analysis and shoehorning real-world events into a game context, but I think it serves to illustrate that there is not necessarily the direct skip from Tsarism to Stalinism that you imply.

Quote
Now as I say, I don't have any objection to it as a game; after all one of my favourite games of all times is Kremlin, in which secretive factional control of individuals and the purging of opponents is the subject of play and a great deal of fun, being cartrierd out in a black-humoured manner.  And I don't disagree that the above is a reasonable approximation of the dynamic that appeared under Stalinism.  Its the failure to distinguish between Stalinism and the Revolution, and the conflation of the two, that suggests an adherence to McCarthyist historiography.  To pose the question as to whether soviet "ideals" can survive is off the point, as the soviets have already lost power as soon as General Mud appears - and General Mud appears automatically as an artefact of system.  Thus the game appears to me to systematically answered the very question it proposes.

Oh, I'm not for a moment conflating Stalinism and revolutionary communism as it appeared under Lenin, Bukharin, et al. The game can go either way and that's one of its strengths. In my interpretation, General Mud doesn't have to represent a Stalinist figure, but the leader who inevitably rises to the summit of power during such a time of crisis. This could be a Lenin, a Stalin or, as you suggested, a Napoleon.

Cheers
Malcolm


Title: Re: [General Mud] Ronnies feedback
Post by: Rob MacDougall on January 06, 2006, 09:13:13 AM
Ah. Great discussion. Thank you all for reading and thinking about the game!

To answer the simplest question first: Malcolm, my intent was that a PC with no black marks can instigate an uprising as soon as one Red Banner is flying. There would be something neat about requiring animals to go to the Glue Factory before rising up against the General, but mechanically I think it works better the other way, so the General's position is least stable in the immediate aftermath of the Revolution. Definitely the text could be clearer in places about that and other things. The text is also confused on the issue of whether Mud dice may be used in the Revolution, before the Trials, something I went back and forth on while writing.

Gareth, thanks for the critique. You write:
Quote
Its the failure to distinguish between Stalinism and the Revolution, and the conflation of the two, that suggests an adherence to McCarthyist historiography.  To pose the question as to whether soviet "ideals" can survive is off the point, as the soviets have already lost power as soon as General Mud appears - and General Mud appears automatically as an artefact of system.  Thus the game appears to me to systematically answered the very question it proposes.

I can see how the game, and Animal Farm, could be read in this way, but that was the opposite of my intent. The Revolution and Stalinism aren't conflated in my mind, they're the two key opposing forces in the game, represented by the two Ronnies terms, Soviet and Mud. The point of play, as Ron and Malcolm suggest, is to see which wins out. (I suppose the white Bourgeois dice represent a third force that can also triumph.) None of us have tested the mechanics to see how the currency works, but the idea is that a number of outcomes and interpretations of those outcomes should be possible. (I'm inclined to think Animal Farm can be read in more than one way, too - hence its appeal to both right and left, as you note, but certainly RPGs have written literature beat when it comes to addressing ideas in an open-ended way.)

Now, you may have a point that I've stacked the deck in favor of Stalinism, or at least declension of the revolution's ideals (not sure why the word "ideals" requires scare quotes above - are they not ideals?) by having General Mud appear automatically as an artefact of system. But as Malcolm suggests, there can be a succession of General Muds (Generals Mud?) and each one may play a little differently.

I mentioned above that I'd waffled on whether PCs could use Mud dice in the Revolution phase of the game. One idea I had but didn't use was that the General would not appear until somebody used Mud dice, so it would be possible for the game to stay GM-less for much longer, maybe indefinitely. What would you think of a change like that? Of course, I'm not sure how that would work in game terms. One thing nobody has pointed out, and maybe it's too obvious or cute to do so, is that General Mud tries simultaneously to be a game about Animal Farm and Russian history and also a game about traditional versus GM-less RPGs.

Rob

ps I can stand being one of the bourgeoisie, but I'm a little surprised at being lumped in with McCarthy. Surely there's a better term for what we're talking about than "McCarthyist" historiography? McCarthy was not a historian, and one doesn't need to be Joe McCarthy to evince doubts about Communism under Lenin.

pps Hmm. Thinking a little more critically about my own assumptions, Gareth may have a point about a too easy conflation of Stalinism and the Revolution. Though if so, I'm certainly not the only Ronnies contestant to make that jump. The assigned Ronnies term was "Soviet", but all the Soviet Ronnies I can think of off hand did end up being about Stalin or the Stalinist period in some way. Is that right, or am I forgetting any?


Title: Re: [General Mud] Ronnies feedback
Post by: Ron Edwards on January 06, 2006, 11:32:43 AM
Hello,

Not to get too, too political at the Forge, Rob, but that was one of my resigned expectations upon choosing the term "soviet." It's practically unavoidable given what we learn in school here in the U.S., and that's even in recent generations - men of my dad's generation (my dad b. 1926) couldn't be spoken with at all on the subject, they went all blank-eyed and started breathing through their noses.

It might not all be indoctrination, though. I can see why attention toward "soviet" would veer Stalin's way, because, after all, in 24 hours, the tendency is (joy) to write toward the things that grab one's own values and conflicts. Some people argue that Stalin's stamp upon the twentieth century via the Soviet Union overrides or overshadows the influence of anything actually Marxist or Leninist, although the nuances of that discussion are far, far beyond my expertise. Probably not a good idea to get into that, at this website, although if anyone wants to post links, that might be useful.

Krasnoarmeets did an interesting job of letting "soviet" be merely a historical tag ... but also to emphasize that if we Americans want to make a big historical-virtuous deal out of fighting Nazis, there're 1+ million Soviet soldiers who died at Stalingrad to consider in that story as well.

Who knows, maybe we'll see more post-Ronnies work that uses the relatively limited, but still fascinating inroads we've made this time as a starting point.

Best,
Ron


Title: Re: [General Mud] Ronnies feedback
Post by: Troy_Costisick on January 06, 2006, 11:49:38 AM
Heya,

Quote
Who knows, maybe we'll see more post-Ronnies work that uses the relatively limited, but still fascinating inroads we've made this time as a starting point.

Yeah, it's a process.  Look back six years ago when the Forge started and the closest thing to an Indie-press was Wick doing his articles about Orkworld on Gaming Outpost.  It's taken us six years to get to the point where we can start to bring things up like politics, religion, and relationships.  It wasn't overnight.  But at the same time, it was only six years.  That's amazing!  Who knows where we'll be six years from today? The mainstream has been around for over 30.  They still haven't gotten to that point.

Your game has awesome potential, Rob.  I hope to see it on the market by the end of the year.  Good luck to ya! :)

Peace,

-Troy


Title: Re: [General Mud] Ronnies feedback
Post by: James Holloway on January 06, 2006, 06:31:08 PM
Krasnoarmeets did an interesting job of letting "soviet" be merely a historical tag ... but also to emphasize that if we Americans want to make a big historical-virtuous deal out of fighting Nazis, there're 1+ million Soviet soldiers who died at Stalingrad to consider in that story as well.
I grew up around Soviet history, Soviet historians, and the Red Army, so I think it's just my instinctive reaction to think of "Soviet" as a rather matter-of-fact descriptor. But I knew right from the get-go that I wanted to do something with miniatures, and that meant Great Patriotic War, and that meant Stalingrad, but "mud" meant south of Stalingrad...

General Mud is fast-tracked on the "games I will never get to play" stack. I wonder how it would play online; I think it might do rather well. If so, I'll try to take a crack at it.


Title: Re: [General Mud] Ronnies feedback
Post by: TonyPace on January 06, 2006, 08:12:07 PM
Rob: You are forgetting mine, although October's Shadow does address the death of the Revolution. Stalin doesn't appear anywhere, I don't think. But anyways, the point is essentially that once you get into secret police and gulags and frankly described terrorist policies, Stalin himself is more or less a formality.

Maybe that's an insensitive way to put it, but I guess one shared element between October's Shadows and General Mud is that they both suggest that after the revolution power tends to concentrate in the hands of the ruthless, who then secure a near monopoly of force. Historically, that happened way before Stalin was more than an also-ran.

I mean, I don't think you CAN have a game about leftism in this day and age that doesn't address the betrayal of its ideals. Stalin is a convenient shorthand for that, but in terms of General Mud, my game suggests that Lenin became General Mud around September 1918 when he decided with Dzerzhinsky that a Glue Factory was necessary. Stalin was just a more ruthless iteration of the cycle, with added trips to secure better cooperation. More or less exactly the way Malcolm has it.

Ant any rate though, my text suggests that's where the game ends.


Title: Re: [General Mud] Ronnies feedback
Post by: contracycle on January 10, 2006, 09:31:42 AM
It was indeed inevitable that a use of the term 'soviet' would produce references to the USSR, the problems of that system, some real and some alleged.  And it is indeed in that sense that soviet is given a definition atthe beginning of the piece.  But there is, of course, a prior meaning to the Russian word: a soviet is like a village council, and its format had been carried over into the industrial workshops.  When Lenin said "all power to the soviets", he was specifically NOT saying "all power to the Bolsheviks". 

The Bolsheviks did not "seize" power; on 1st June 1917 they controlled only 13% of seats in the All Russian Congress of the Soviets, but this rose to 66% on 5th July 1918.  The Bolsheviks aquired power becuase their policies were consistently more functional than those of their opponents.  And that is the purpose of the vanguard of the proletariat - not, as General Mud would have it, to create the revolution out of whole cloth. The revolution was not conducted as a conspiracy by a narrow segment of arch-plotters.

Thus when it says that "The laws should be statements of revolutionary optimism, reflecting your faith in your comrades, in the perfectibility of animal nature, and in the promised paradise of beasts." we have already leaped head-long into wild-eyed Utopianism.  None of these things are relevant or even on the agenda when a revolution occurs.  And they are the dumbest basis for any kind of political programme imaginable (except perhaps for those who live in the "faith-based community") - that is why I put "ideals" in inverted commas.  Dialectical materialists have little truck with "ideals" in any form.

And thus inevitably "it doesn't matter" what caused the farmer to be overthrown, because we deal only with the "essence" divorced of content.  Thus, "selfish" actions are construed as Bourgeois, but why is that?  Selfishness may indeed be bourgeois, but overthrowing the state in pursuit of food to eat is also selfish, surely, and yet the basis of revolutionary action.  Have not priests continually exhorted us not to covet our neighbours ox?  Does Leviticus not admonish us to accept our wages?  So why is it that self-interest, in any other form but submissive forelock-tugging obedience to the powers that be, is construed as Idealisim to be countered by the harsh pragmatism of the bourgeoisie?

Because it is further alleged that "More broadly, General Mud represents reality’s way of corrupting and staining the lofty ideals of any revolution."  Never mind the dependance on the failed revolution in Germany, such material concerns would undermine the moralistic point.  Never mind that the Bolsheviks were well aware that their situation was extraodinarily tenuous.  Never mind the forces from foreign states on Russian soil, including a contingent of US troops fighting against the people on behalf of Monarchic absolutism.  We don't like to look at the facts because it undermines the nice self-fulfilling prophecy we have constructed, and we can then draw a spurious contrast between "idealists" and "pragmatists", arrogating to our bourgeois selves the identity of the pragmatist.  We don't like to imagine our fluffy and rather simple, stupid animals having had to deal with real conditions - thats why we imagine them as stupid animals in the first place, rather than real human beings.

So as far as I can tell, the game does not permit the revolution proper to triumph - it allows only one of the four possible outcomes of a revolution, the formulation of a new class-based society.  This is quite overt; even the raising of the red banners against general mud produces only a new incumbent, not a change of order.  The outcomes strike me as bizarre, these being: GM stays in power but it does not matter because quotas are met - and this is to be the alleged paradise of animalism?  Isn't that precisely the relationship workers have with capitalists today?  Next, the animals can retract from their supposed "idealism" in order to sabotage the "soviet", and yet this most Marxist of responses - change from below, independant working class strategy - is deemed to be the failure of animalism.  And lastly, of course, the charnel house.

So what it offers is a choice of any colour you like as long as its black.  It is impossible for the revolution to succeed - that is literally out of bounds in this game, the possibility has been eliminated as soon as it is asserted that animals are driven by idealism rather pragmatism, are only indifferently familiar with their own physical circumstances, and that the Inevitability Thesis - that revolutions, being the artefact of the lesser orders without the enlightened guidance of the bourgeoisie, are doomed to fail - is in effect.  And not much of it has a great deal of relevance to what actually went on in Russia during the revolutionary period, IMO.


Title: Re: [General Mud] Ronnies feedback
Post by: Troy_Costisick on January 10, 2006, 09:46:20 AM
Yeah, so anyway...

General Mudd is a kickass game.  Have you done much revision work on it yet, Rob?

Peace,

-Troy


Title: Re: [General Mud] Ronnies feedback
Post by: Ron Edwards on January 11, 2006, 09:38:06 AM
Hello,

Wait, wait, that input isn't irrelevant, Troy. I have to say "busted," referring to myself, on your history-class call, Gareth. I can't reconcile the assumptions/labeling that are intrinsic to the novel with real history either.

I think a number of your points about the larger issues are irrelevant here, but that'd be a topic for other websites.

So the game seems best to me to be considered as a literary political pastime, rather than a historical one. Switch my "use it in classrooms" phrase from history to literature? I can live with that.

With that in mind, Rob, what will you be looking for in playtesting? My own list includes:

- what kinds of actions distinguish white from red dice

- the currency interactions in general, but especially whether the mud dice are overwhelming

- whether people find the basic conflicts among the broad types of actions worth pursuing

- what "winning" might or might not be, for this game

Best,
Ron


Title: Re: [General Mud] Ronnies feedback
Post by: Sydney Freedberg on January 11, 2006, 03:12:26 PM
"Busted"? "Not history but literature"? I'm not so sure.

Gareth, I certainly see your point that the game assumes the failure of the revolution by automatically selecting someone to be "General Mud," which is assuming some kind of dictatorship rather than democracy (of which one example would be "all power to the Soviets" for real). So the game's not in fact a useful teaching tool on "why revolutions fail," although I'd argue it's a pretty good one for "how the failure of revolutions affects people."

My problem with Gareth's argument is that I can't think of a historical case in which a Communist revolution actually did create a more-or-less lasting democracy. I can think of Social Democratic parties that have made all sorts of accomplishments and helped create greater democracy than previously existed in their respective countries; I can think of revolutions (including bloodless but illegal seizures of power) inspired by non-Communist ideologies that have led to greater democracy; but I can't think of an event that's clearly (a) a revolution and (b) Communist that hasn't led, within a few years, to some form of undemocratic rule that would be pretty fairly described by a game of General Mud.

Obviously, I'm entirely open to counter-examples, though anything beyond a brief capsule mention along the lines of "hey, check out the history of this, which disproves your assertion in this way, and here's some useful links" is probably beyond the scope of this thread. Such counter-examples, assuming people can find them, would make a nice item for an endnote or historical postscript to the final game.


Title: Re: [General Mud] Ronnies feedback
Post by: Callan S. on January 11, 2006, 08:51:17 PM
Finally, here's an interesting quandary. Right now, I'm trying to frame a post to answer Victor's questions in [Stalin's Story] Ronnies feedback (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=18194.0), in which I'm going to claim that playing Stalin and arbitrating play isn't functional, or at least, isn't reliably functional for me. Whereas in this story, you do have someone playing General Mud, who does have GMing responsibilities too, and yet I'm saying it's brilliant, wins a full award, blah blah. Any comments on the differences? I think it'll be a useful comparison.
I want to hear more about this too!

I've got a rough hypothesis: As everyone starts as players, everyone works at an equal currency level. I don't mean mechanical currency, but personal investment. Most importantly, these transactions are remembered by all players.

Okay, when someone launches into the GM seat where they work at a much higher currency level, they still have the remains of these transactions at the lower level. It'd be kind of like being a nerd at school, but becoming a rock god after you leave school. The thing is, the people who knew you at school remember what you did and what you were like before you hit such lofty position. They will compare what you were, with what your doing now.

Here, the GM never really escapes the player role he was in before, because everything he does as GM can still be judged at the player level. Even though he's working at a higher currency level, he's still tied intimately to the SIS everyone else is in. And thus he's still contributing like a player - his GM'ing actions don't dispationately manage the game from a higher social contract level. Instead they add turmoil and drama right at the player level, because he just can't escape it. Yet he's forfilling the called for GM duties that keep a game kicking along.

I like this! I hope I'm not way off! How accurate is this hypothesis?


Title: Re: [General Mud] Ronnies feedback
Post by: contracycle on January 12, 2006, 02:18:31 AM
Gareth, I certainly see your point that the game assumes the failure of the revolution by automatically selecting someone to be "General Mud," which is assuming some kind of dictatorship rather than democracy (of which one example would be "all power to the Soviets" for real). So the game's not in fact a useful teaching tool on "why revolutions fail," although I'd argue it's a pretty good one for "how the failure of revolutions affects people."

Agreed, somewhat.  That is, I think the phenomenon observed in "failed revolutions" is a phenomenon observed in other contexts too - its the issue of hero-worship and the fetishisation of authority.  I would suggest that the model can just as accurately be applied, for example, to George Bush's ability to rewrite history when he claimed that Iraq and Al Qaeda had known links, and that this untruth is still believed by a sizable number of people purely because he said it.  Or the denunciation of John Kerry as a "leftwing extremist", and outright absurd claim to the ears of anyone familiar wityh the left in any degree.

A combination of fear of power and uncritical acceptance of the leadership of the "right kind of person" produces an Emperors New Clothes phenomenon that can be profoundly dangerous to everyone involved.  As is well known, a sense of external threat is very useful in bringing the public to this point - and in the case of the USSR, considering Hitlers anti-communist crisade and subsequent discussions in NATO, at he end of the war, about possibly "pushing on to Moscow", that perception was stongly reinforced.

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Obviously, I'm entirely open to counter-examples, though anything beyond a brief capsule mention along the lines of "hey, check out the history of this, which disproves your assertion in this way, and here's some useful links" is probably beyond the scope of this thread. Such counter-examples, assuming people can find them, would make a nice item for an endnote or historical postscript to the final game.

The problem is that this presupposes a faulty view of the Marxist thesis.  There is no possibility whatsoever of communism appearing in a single state; to even look for a "communist state" is a contradiction in terms.  Marxism is not a proposition for an alternative mode of government - it as an argument that human society has an evolutionary trajectory, and that upon the advent of Industrialism a new form of social organisation became feasible - one that does not depend upon the systematic exploitation and extortion of those who actually keep society running through their labour, by those who live parasitically off that labour purely due to their property rights enforced by the armed might of the state.

This is why I have repeatedly referred to McCarthyist historiography, and why I regard the USA as the most comprehensively propagandised state on the planet today - it has systematically propagated a fictitious set of claims and criteria by which Marxism is to be judged, a set of straw men to be knocked down by spurious argument, such as the demand for an example of a "communist state" - it literally demands, as proof, an outcome that Marxist theory insists is impossible.  As always, this sort of deception relies upon the fundamental ignorance of the audience to whom it is directed as to the actual content of Marxist argument, and their willingness to accept the pronouncements of the formal authorities without question.

And if the Marxist legacy found in the post-Bernstein social democratic parties is insufficient, consider this: we stopped the First World War.  Russia, in 1917, was far from the only Western state to undergo massive civil unrest and popular risings as a result of the trauma of the trenches, and England very nearly underwent its own revolution, Lloyd George remarking "it was the nearest run thing you ever saw".  WWI was brought to an end by the unwillingness of the many to die in the interests of the high and mighty few, and was heavily informed by Marxist criticism of the bourgeois state.  That is why WWI was ended by an Armistice, not a victory - although only in Russia did this pan-European unrest actually succeed in overthrowing the state.

Marxism has a proud history, and a proven track record for cogent and correct analysis of the tensions in modern Industrial society, and the simplisitc and ill-informed determinism by which its critics presume to judge it is simply invalid.  A theory must be engaged in terms of its own claims and predictions if it is to be attacked, and thats precisely the kind of conversation the moralism of Animal Farm seeks to avoid by taking refuge in metaphor.


Title: Re: [General Mud] Ronnies feedback
Post by: droog on January 12, 2006, 02:30:39 AM
I think Ron is right. In the light of Paul Czege's recent comment:

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Roleplaying is increasingly the most socially threatening and personally dangerous leisure pastime in middle america.... The activity of playing the game puts programming into your brain. (Thank god I have your best interests at heart.)

it would be a pity to abandon the question of exactly what politics underly a game--particularly a game about a political subject. History or literature, somebody always writes it.


Title: Re: [General Mud] Ronnies feedback
Post by: contracycle on January 12, 2006, 02:46:29 AM
Anyway....

The bulk of that is off topic in terms of the game.  I certainly agree that that it would work best when considered as a study of the book, without too many express or implied claims about the real world.  And I think the model of the coloured dice indicating something like ideological conventions is very interesting indeed.  I wonder if it is possible that the system might be broadedened to serve more generally as a model for the kinds of conflicts that occur in, for example, monarchic courts.  What the model most represents to me is the operation of factionalism.  Any complex organisation has a continuing problem in reconciling its interests as a whole with the individual interests of its members, and it appears to me this conflict that is represented by the exchange of 'selfsh' dice for 'collective' dice.  Similarly, when General Mud puts his own black dice into play to present a challenge to the other players, this can be construed as the way in which allegiance to a cause obliges you to take on enemies you might not have made for yourself.  Again, its the trade-off inherent to complex organisations, governed by an internal social contract: in exchange for aid in achieveing your agenda X, you are obliged to provide support for collective agenda Y.  Sometimes these tensions cannot be resolved and one party breaks away, or defects to another side.  Thata element of the mechanic, divorced vfrom the notional setting, is quite compelling, I think.


Title: Re: [General Mud] Ronnies feedback
Post by: Sydney Freedberg on January 12, 2006, 05:54:39 PM
Wait, wait, wait.

Gareth, please tell me I'm misunderstanding you, because what I can make out of your argument is that:

1) General Mud, Animal Farm, and most Western analyses of the USSR and Communism are "McCarthyist," "moralist analysis," "ignore... a substantial quantity of history," express a "comprehensively propagandised" outlook, and constitute a "nice self-fulfilling prophecy,"

2) Whereas your critique of Rob MacDougall's and George Orwell's/Eric Blair's work is based only on objective, dispassionate "material analysis," drawing on Marxism's "proven track record for cogent and correct analysis of the tensions in modern Industrial society"

3) and therefore you can authoritatively conclude that General Mud is a fatally flawed depiction of history because its mechanics emulate what actually happened after every extralegal seizure of power ("revolution") by self-described Marxists, when you would prefer it to emulate events that have not to date occurred but which Marxist theory predicts will occur sometime in the future?

Gareth, I happen to believe that Jesus of Nazareth will return to earth at some undetermined point to make an end of Time and to judge the living and the dead (n.b. not holding my breath, mind you), but I don't claim to have a scientific basis for that belief, and I don't berate other people for expressing thoughts about the "trajectory" of human history that give short shrift to it. In what way is your future global Communism any less faith-based an eschatology than mine?

More to the point of the thread, why on earth should Rob listen to your arguments and make any of your suggested changes to his brilliant game, let alone make any apologies for it? Why should he, for example, strip away one bit of the powerfully resonant history and reduce it to a "model [of] the operation of factionalism...divorced from the notional setting"? If you'd like to make an argument for your understanding of "the evolutionary trajectory...of human society," instead of Rob's understanding, you need to write your own game.


Title: Re: [General Mud] Ronnies feedback
Post by: Ron Edwards on January 12, 2006, 08:13:03 PM
H'm,

I think this discussion has so far been in the bounds of "guys talking, knowing that hot-buttons and some caring are involved." For instance, I think the whole issue of ideals and who's idealistic and who's not can simply be placed in the realm of "oh, look, not how I see it," without it being a source of contention.

Gareth and I gave each other a little space based on deciding what's worth blazing into a big disagreement and what's not. We didn't even work it out via PM or anything, just the posts you see here. Both of us are using food for thought regarding the game as our yardstick.

So Sydney, consider giving a little space. The game will not live or die based on whether you win a debate. Rob's the author, and he can make his own decisions. Right now the goal is only for all of us to understand one another, and a little rhetoric along the way, here and there, is just part of the expected landscape when these issues are involved. No need for defensive modes. Gareth, if you could hold off on responding to Sydney point-by-point, I'd appreciate it.

In fact, maybe it'd be good for Rob to be the next person who weighs in.

Best,
Ron


Title: Re: [General Mud] Ronnies feedback
Post by: Rob MacDougall on January 12, 2006, 08:48:33 PM
Hi all:

Thanks for all the discussion and sorry I've been quiet a few days. I'm in kind of a work crunch right now, with something due next week, so I won't be able to give General Mud, or this conversation, or the other Ronnies threads, the attention I'd like before then. But for what it's worth, I'm enjoying the thread, and I find both the game design talk and the political talk around the game interesting and worthwhile as long as everyone keeps it friendly, like Ron suggests. I appreciate Sydney and Troy getting my back, as it were, but I wasn't troubled by anything Gareth posted. I respect that these are subjects people take seriously and I don't think that Gareth was ever demanding an apology or revisions to the game or anything. At the same time, I think it's cool that a game can open up some modest political discussion. I'm intrigued by the possibility of political rpgs - not polemics or sermons, but genuine games that mess around with, play with political ideas. (I'd love to package a completed General Mud with a completed version of my proposed "capitalist" Sorcerer supplement, Sorcerer Incorporated, and thus offend both ends of the political spectrum.)

Regarding the game itself, right now I'm thinking about Ron's question about what to look for during playtesting. I know what I fear, which is that in terms of IIEE, the game is a mess, or at least, it gives no guidance. I have no idea: how much scene framing and setting a GM should do, how long players will talk before putting dice in play, how much back and forth there will be between the GM and between players, how much gets narrated before dice are rolled, who talks after dice are rolled, how this will all work in the Revolution phase before there's a GM - all these fundamental things that can totally screw you up. Without stifling other conversation, any thoughts on those issues would be greatly appreciated.

cheers,
Rob


Title: Re: [General Mud] Ronnies feedback
Post by: contracycle on January 13, 2006, 12:46:04 AM
Gareth, I happen to believe that Jesus of Nazareth will return to earth at some undetermined point to make an end of Time and to judge the living and the dead (n.b. not holding my breath, mind you), but I don't claim to have a scientific basis for that belief, and I don't berate other people for expressing thoughts about the "trajectory" of human history that give short shrift to it. In what way is your future global Communism any less faith-based an eschatology than mine?

I can't answer that without walking you through the argument, which would be extremely time-consuming and grossly off-topic.  I'm afraid ythere is absolutely no evidence for magic, miracles, or divine intervention of any kind.  There is a very large and comprehensive body of archeological evidence showing that societies change over time in synhcronicity with their technical development.  This is, in our time unlike Marx time, so normal that nobody bats an eyelid if you suggest that neolithic people lived rather different lives than ours, in many respects, including the productive relations between individuals.  The real question is why people find such a mundane idea so threatening.

Yes, it is scientific, evidence driven, and specifically rejects moralistic and idealistic arguments.  I don't do "belief", at all, about anything, ever.  Belief is for people who can't be bothered to do research.

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More to the point of the thread, why on earth should Rob listen to your arguments and make any of your suggested changes to his brilliant game, let alone make any apologies for it? Why should he, for example, strip away one bit of the powerfully resonant history

Let me stop you there - you meant to say, "powerfully resonant fiction."  Its not history, that was the point.

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and reduce it to a "model [of] the operation of factionalism...divorced from the notional setting"? If you'd like to make an argument for your understanding of "the evolutionary trajectory...of human society," instead of Rob's understanding, you need to write your own game.
[/quote

I didn't say that he should.  I am indiciating that I too see value and skill in the work that he has done.  While I dispute the context, he can do whatever he wants - after all, given my dependance on material evidence no faulty claim presents much of a threat.  But I did think there was an interesting application for the mechanic, because the mechanic does capture a genuine political process - its just not one that has a great deal to do with revolutions per se.  Mechanically, I liked it a lot and there may be something about the use of coloured dice representing factional allegiances that I will borrow some day.


Title: Re: [General Mud] Ronnies feedback
Post by: Ron Edwards on January 13, 2006, 06:15:33 AM
Gareth, I just told Sydney to give you some space. I expect you to extrapolate and do the same for him. You guys are getting really close to posturing about who's smarter or more scientific or less idealistic - stupid geek bullshit.

Talk to Rob, because he's listening.

Best,
Ron


Title: Re: [General Mud] Ronnies feedback
Post by: Sydney Freedberg on January 13, 2006, 11:44:17 AM
Having set out fairly clearly where and why I disagree with Gareth, I'd actually like to return to the point he made with which I do agree: The current draft only primarily the internal dynamics of the "Soviet of Beasts" (i.e. the CPSU leadership) and shortchanges the very real possibility that external threats -- either external to the Farm (USSR) altogether, or within the Farm but external to the Soviet -- may influence events. The current draft, in both mechanics and text, subsumes external threats to the internal dynamic:

Quote from: the current draft
For the Farm, in the General’s mind at least, is beset by enemies without and within....General Mud’s dice represent opposition facing all the PCs—whether it comes from outside enemies, inside traitors, or the General himself.

Now, in the Revolution itself, the game does allow an "all the players lose" result: IF total white dice < total red dice, THEN the Revolution does not yet occur. Frankly, I'd like to see some more teeth to that: e.g., off the top of my head:

Quote from: hypothetical revised draft
If the sum of the Soviet dice does not exceed the sum of the Bourgeois dice, the Revolution has not yet come to pass -- and the Farmer singles out the most obvious trouble-maker for some terrible punishment: The character with the highest total on his Red dice suffers some visible, terrible injury, and the PC's Heart score is permanently and irrevocably reduced by one.

In other words, the same mechanic as the Glue Factory.

More to the larger point, however, there's no "all the players lose" outcome in the post-Revolutionary phase that makes up the bulk of the game -- if you bear in mind the basic Forge principle that "the GM is a player, too." The GM can lose, if the Revolution occurs (and I love making the GM position an object of contention in the game); the non-GM players can all lose, both in the sense of failing to overthrow the GM and in the sense of all going to the Glue Factory three times; but there's no condition in which both the GM and the other players all lose. In short, the Soviet itself can't be overthrown: No external invasion, no internal rebellion or Civil War -- all of which were tremendous factors in real Soviet history, and did a great deal to drive the internal butcheries.

What I'd love to see added is another possible outcome of the combination of White, Black, and Red dice -- something that represents a serious external threat entirely independent of General Mud. I'd especially love it if players were able to choose between (a) actively undermining, or at least withholding support from, General Mud, but at the risk of everyone losing the game due to an external threat, or (b) actively supporting General Mud, even as he sends you off to the Glue Factory, to increase the chances of the play-group as a whole surviving the external threat.

Mechanically, I'm unsure how to implement this. In the current mechanics, as I understand them
1) IF a PC's White + Black + (shared) Red < GM's Black dice, THEN that PC may go to the Glue Factory.
2) IF all PC's Red > all Black (both GM and PC's), THEN the GM may be overthrown.

What I'm looking for is a third condition -- all this is off the top of my head, now -- that's something like
3) IF total of all PC's White dice > total of all PC's Red dice, THEN the game may end.

Say, each time this happens, you put a White Banner on the GM's screen, and when you accumulate, oh, three White Banners, the game ends; everybody loses; and the player with the highest White total on that turn gets to narrate anything from Civil War to Nazi invasion to perestroika.

And then the only way to get rid of a White Banner is to get rid of a Red Banner at the same time: "Our internal differences hardly matter in the face of such a great external threat!" There's no mechanic currently to get rid of a Red Banner (or am I missing it?), but presumably it would involve some mighty act of self-subjugation on the part of the PCs.


Title: Re: [General Mud] Ronnies feedback
Post by: Sydney Freedberg on January 13, 2006, 12:05:20 PM
Oh, I just thought of a possible "rally round the leader" mechanic, simply by inverting the current "uprising" mechanic:

Quote from: hypothetical revised draft
If the number of White Banners flying exceeds the number of Black Marks on your character sheet, you may try to unite the Soviet against external enemies by calling for a rally in support of the General... PCs may only join the rally if the number of White Banners flying exceeds the number of Black Marks on their own character sheet. Otherwise, they are seen as too much the toadies of the General for their declaration of support to mean anything.

If a majority of the PCs join the rally—a tie vote is not sufficient—a struggle to unite the people behind General Mud has begun. When the dice are rolled to resolve the turn, compare the sum of all the red Soviet dice on the table to the sum of all the white Bourgeois dice. If the sum of the Soviet dice exceeds the sum of the White dice, the people have rallied behind their leader! Remove one White Banner from the GM's screen -- and remove one Red Banner as well. If the sum of the white dice is greater, the rally fails, but with no further adverse consequence.

If a majority of the PCs do not join the rally at all, it is an embarassing failure that only emphasizes the weakness and division of the Soviet. Add one Red Banner and one White Banner to the GM's screen.

Obviously this is just a notion. But what I like is that it adds a new layer of dilemmas to the game:

"Yes, General Mud sent Comrade Pavel to the Glue Factory -- but look at all the white dice Pavel had been rolling! If more Comrades had begun to follow Pavel's selfish example, we would all be doomed! An example must be made!"

"The General has sent me to the Glue Factory before; he may well send me again -- but today, today I stand with him against the enemies of the Revolution! Comrades, set aside your white dice and join the rally!"

"I know, I know, two White Banners -- the Americans and British landing at Arkangel, the Cossacks burning the countryside. But the General has proven himself the greatest threat to the Revolution of all! Let's strike quickly, overthrow him, and then, under a new and nobler leader, unite against our external enemies!"


Title: Re: [General Mud] Ronnies feedback
Post by: Ramidel on January 13, 2006, 02:22:00 PM
Oh, I just thought of a possible "rally round the leader" mechanic, simply by inverting the current "uprising" mechanic:

Quote from: hypothetical revised draft
If the number of White Banners flying exceeds the number of Black Marks on your character sheet, you may try to unite the Soviet against external enemies by calling for a rally in support of the General... PCs may only join the rally if the number of White Banners flying exceeds the number of Black Marks on their own character sheet. Otherwise, they are seen as too much the toadies of the General for their declaration of support to mean anything.

If a majority of the PCs join the rally—a tie vote is not sufficient—a struggle to unite the people behind General Mud has begun. When the dice are rolled to resolve the turn, compare the sum of all the red Soviet dice on the table to the sum of all the white Bourgeois dice. If the sum of the Soviet dice exceeds the sum of the White dice, the people have rallied behind their leader! Remove one White Banner from the GM's screen -- and remove one Red Banner as well. If the sum of the white dice is greater, the rally fails, but with no further adverse consequence.

If a majority of the PCs do not join the rally at all, it is an embarassing failure that only emphasizes the weakness and division of the Soviet. Add one Red Banner and one White Banner to the GM's screen.

Obviously this is just a notion. But what I like is that it adds a new layer of dilemmas to the game:

"Yes, General Mud sent Comrade Pavel to the Glue Factory -- but look at all the white dice Pavel had been rolling! If more Comrades had begun to follow Pavel's selfish example, we would all be doomed! An example must be made!"

"The General has sent me to the Glue Factory before; he may well send me again -- but today, today I stand with him against the enemies of the Revolution! Comrades, set aside your white dice and join the rally!"

"I know, I know, two White Banners -- the Americans and British landing at Arkangel, the Cossacks burning the countryside. But the General has proven himself the greatest threat to the Revolution of all! Let's strike quickly, overthrow him, and then, under a new and nobler leader, unite against our external enemies!"

Might I suggest that a successful uprising remove all Red -and- White banners, going back to square one under a new General Mud?  (This would fit the hypothetical success of the hard-line coup against Gorbachev.)