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General Forge Forums => Endeavor => Topic started by: Rich Stokes on January 10, 2007, 09:44:53 AM

Title: Thou Art But a Warrior: Setting Challenge Review
Post by: Rich Stokes on January 10, 2007, 09:44:53 AM
Thou Art But a Warrior is a setting for Polaris by Anna Kreider.  It's a 13 page PDF.

I find this entry very hard to judge.  After reading this brief setting for Polaris, I'm left thinking: Yeah, that's cool.

In it's favour, we have an Arabian themed setting for Polaris.  Instead of the failing kingdom of ice and the invading demons, you have invading Christian infidels.  The people in general are complacent and slightly arrogant and the seeds of tragedy are sewn.  I mean, there's really nothing not to like when it comes to mating this setting with the Polaris system.  It fits like a glove, with none of the stretching that some entries seem to exhibit.

The layout (while not a criteria for the contest) is really nice, with a clean scheme and attractive artwork.  By far the nicest looking of the entries I was given to judge.

I can't really think of anything negative to say about the setting.  Perhaps that it's one of the less ambitious entries to the contest: The fit to the original Polaris setting is rather easy.  But I really don't think it's fair to criticise it for that per-se, just no bonus points.

So, for the "proper" judging:

How well is the game system integrated? How well does it seem to fit?

It fits wonderfully.  A really nice match

How will the game presumably work in play, especially with regard to how the setting facilitates a certain kind of play?

Since Polaris works rather well, and since all the same themes are here, I can't see this working any differently.

How complete, accessible and well presented is the material?

It's very easy to read and grok, nothing hard to get your head around.  I can see a group who'd familiar with Polaris sitting down and starting a game of Thou Art But a Warrior very quickly indeed.  It's short and gets it's point over quickly and easily.

How interesting, original, stylish and “juicy” is the setting?

There's a lot of ideas for conflict here, and that's what makes the game work.  While there isn't much in terms of word count (we don't get a run-down of the cities their locations and populations for example) we DO get some ideas for conflicts.  Christian vs Muslim, Muslim vs Muslim, Ideology vs unavoidable doom, brother vs brother etc.  Quality stuff.

In conclusion, I liked this setting a lot.  I think that by the criteria of the contest, it's a very high scorer indeed!

Title: Re: Thou Art But a Warrior: Setting Challenge Review
Post by: Malcolm Craig on January 10, 2007, 10:12:43 AM
Broadly, it seems that Rich and I seem to share some common views on Thou Art But A Warrior. It's a lovely, nicely crafted setting that flips the icy world that Polaris normally takes place in onto its head and transfers it to the burning heat of the desert. It's compact and nicely put together, giving an easy, enjoyable read at the first encounter.

How well is the game system integrated? How well does it seem to fit?

it seems to be ideal, from what I can see.

How will the game presumably work in play, especially with regard to how the setting facilitates a certain kind of play?

To reiterate what Rich has already pointed out, it should function very well.

How complete, accessible and well presented is the material?

Very accessible and easy to browse.

How interesting, original, stylish and “juicy” is the setting?

This is the point where I may stray into what I perceive as negative points. For me, It doesn't go far enough. I would love to have seen more there in terms of background and colour. This is purely personal preference, as I love that sort of thing. The setting does, however, provide plenty of scope for great stories.


Title: Re: Thou Art But a Warrior: Setting Challenge Review
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on January 11, 2007, 12:13:35 AM
OK, now I'm going to get proactive about this. It might take me a while to get through all the games I want to comment on, as I have lots and lots of other stuff falling on me this month. But be patient, I'm intending to say my word on each one of these. I'll mostly confine myself to gestulating wildly and using the submissions as example pieces for theoretical pondering about the nature of setting design, so if it seems that I'm not giving a balanced overview and review of the games, it's because I'm not.

I'll try to stick to some kind of schedule - perhaps I'll just go through one game each other day with preliminary notes, and return to any that need elaboration later. I'll start with Thou art but a Warrior just because it's first in the Voting list. Later I'll do others, and if you're interested in following the progress of my theoretical gestulation, perhaps it's wise to read them in order.

The actual setting description of the submission is without fault, so nothing to mention there. The interesting part is the existence or lack of active game design in the creation of the setting - whether the decisions made by the setting designer have an active impact on the play of the game. This latter gauge is something I came up with after thinking about the requirements of innovative setting design for a while; any setting design that does not actually have impact on play is, ultimately, just prose written to inspire players. That's what makes setting design so tricky, you have to manage to affect gameplay by your choice of setting facts.

So stripping away the prose, what's left of Thou art but a Warrior? Here's my list of important points of the setting:
  • We're playing moslems, which is heavy stuff for anybody with personal connection to religious/cultural politics. My European identity, for instance, deems this some heavy shit; the paladins of Charlemagne are lawless barbarians arrayed against the high civilization of the age.
  • The barbarians harass moslem kingdoms of Iberia on and off. The moslems have fractured into several competing kingdoms. Mostly not that important, although see later for the effect of several kingdoms on the Cosmos.
  • Players are playing moslem knights with their own moral code, by which they can themselves be judged. The latter part is not explicit, but in this setting it is well known what it is to be a good moslem knight. Might be significant for play.
  • The knight's transition: twisting back to the first point, the powerful moment when the character realizes that the infidels will bring ruin to his civilization. This detail alone makes me want to play the game.

Other than the points above, as far as I can see the setting has no impact on play of Polaris, or at least the extra impact is dependent on how a given group connects with the historical period and what extra assumptions they choose to bring. Whether this is a good amount of impact or just superficial is a matter of debate: we'll be comparing Thou art but a Warrior later on with some other submissions that twist the original game in a much harsher manner. However, some of those achieve what they're trying to do with outright system manipulation, which Thou art but a Warrior declines to do; the system is identical to Polaris.

A perceived weakness is that some points of the Polaris system have not been adapted. I'd be interested in whether the roles of Muhtasib and Qadi are left as is out of heedlessness; the setting certainly seems to place major focus on the social roles of infidels, faithful, muladi and dhimmi, so I'm surprised that this is not reflected in the Cosmos. As the knights are depicted as somewhat solitary and there's always another kingdom to serve beyond the borders of this one, the original distinction of authority vs. emotion vs. corruption loses some teeth. I'd consider this the largest outright flaw in the adaptation, unless I'm missing something that makes authority issues central here.

But that aside, what does this setting teach us about setting design, the original goal of Frank's challenge? I'd say that the first teaching is intertextualism - even a simple switch from one milieu to another can have meaning if the milieu is associated with heavy issues by the players. Evaluation and judgement of the whole moslem civilization is a relevant issue for me (if I may be so grand), so this becomes more than just a cosmetic change.

I'd say that another potential teaching here is that of identity - character identity can be manipulated by setting design to affect situation. In this case the designer has added fixed expectations into the authority role of the character. However, we'll come to other submissions that demonstrate this one better, so I'll leave it for now.

Considering intertextualism and identity together, I have to say that both are well-known and often used methods in defining a setting, so this is not exactly new ground. Hopefully the example of using an existing game as a base helps put those issues into relief, through actual play if nothing else. When play is otherwise identical, it should be easy to spot and learn of these features.

Well, that's that. Up, up and away, to new reviews i go!

Title: Re: Thou Art But a Warrior: Setting Challenge Review
Post by: Anna Kreider on January 11, 2007, 04:02:42 PM

Thank you. :)


I actually started out providing A LOT more detail and wound up cutting it way back, simply because I was afraid that people would get paralyzed by wanting to be accurate. The fact of the matter is that the target audience is indie gamers: most of whom are not Muslim (at least from what I’ve seen at Gencon…). So I tried to strike a balance; I wanted to provide enough detail so that players would understand how to USE the setting, but keep it simple enough that players would be able to generalize the content for their own use. Ideally, I would have liked to have bounced it off a lot of people to see how well I managed to do with that, but I only had my husband.

Thank you for commenting on that. That’s something I was wondering if I should revisit, so now I guess that I should.


I am not, nor do I think I ever will be a game designer. I am an artist, and a writer – and I approached the challenge as such. Despite reading up on theory and whatnot, I seriously doubt that I will ever really understand game design. That influenced my choice of game, as well as my choice of subject matter. Since my game design fu is non-existent, my goal was to make my setting different by choosing a very loaded and complex subject matter.

Although I’ll admit that as the only participant who didn’t make meaningful changes to the rules of the original system, I’m definitely feeling like the odd, er, woman out.

(Incidentally, I find it interesting that rules-hacking became such a big part of the competition, because it wasn’t part of the original post that FrankT made – it was something that was tacked on when people asked if it was permissible.)

I’m happy that my choice to use Muslims as protagonists and victims of the evil nasty Christians managed to give the setting some teeth. It was a decision that I really struggled with, because I was afraid of not being able to do it right. But ultimately, having grown up in a pretty racist and conservative state made me want to try.

I have to thank you all for your comments, they’ve been enlightening. I’ve been meaning to write up my thoughts on the other entries I judged (Atlas, Darker, and The Legion of Super Science) but I’m in a play and rehearsals have kept me busy. Hopefully I’ll get to do that on Sunday…


Title: Re: Thou Art But a Warrior: Setting Challenge Review
Post by: Graham W on January 12, 2007, 04:35:27 AM
Anna, if it helps, Darker made very few changes to the mechanics either.

I think it's unfair to say that rules-hacking was "tacked on". It wasn't. It was an allowable part of the competition: we checked with Frank and he said it was OK.

Generally, I think it's a good thing that there are diversely designed entries in the competition. It's important not to dismiss entries either because they change the system or because they don't.


Title: Re: Thou Art But a Warrior: Setting Challenge Review
Post by: Ben Lehman on January 12, 2007, 02:39:18 PM
Setting Challenge Review: Thou Art But a Warrior

I have to say it's a bit strange to be sitting in judgement on an adaption of one's own game into a new setting.  I'm both inclined to give great praise, because it is clearly great flattery to have someone choose my game for their setting, but on the other hand, I'm much closer to the original material, and so I'm much more inclined to see errors and problems.

So, with that in mind, here goes.

How well is the game system integrated?

Decently.  I think that there are some definite holes in the link between the new setting and the system, though.  Most significantly, I don't believe that the level of supernatural in the game can be adequately moderated just by having a pre-game discussion, and mid-game discussion about such limits is pretty much death for Polaris.  Secondarily, there's no clear limit on what you can and cannot ask for as a novice and a veteran.  I have some ideas about how to handle this but I'm going to save them for later.

That said, these points are pretty minor, and it's possible that a group could play a full game of Thou Art But a Warrior without running into these problems.  There is also a brilliant high point in the transition from Novice to Veteran, where the characters learn the God is on the side of the infidels.  How do they react to that?  Screw them, how do I react to that?  Reading that gave me a visceral sense of a punch in the gut, and that's exactly what I want from this sort of adaptation of Polaris.  Overall, I'm going to rate an 8 in this category.

How will the game work in play, especially with regard to how the setting facilitates a certain kind of play?

I think that the game will work pretty well in doing the same things that Polaris does, which is to say creating a tragedy by forcing the characters to, piece by piece, abandon all that they hold sacred.  I'm not totally convinced that it's well tied to the sense of the downfall of Iberia as a whole, though.  I'd love to see something where we get a correspondence between the Zeal / Weariness scores and world events, say.

What the setting is going to work really well for is using Polaris to make deeply personal and non-simple political statements about modern politics, particularly Islamic terrorism, the Iraq war, Israel, and the general atmosphere of "new crusade / new jihad" that we are getting shoved down our throats these days.  Basic Polaris is simply incapable of these sorts of statements, Thou Art But a Warrior straight-up requires them.

Overall, I'm going to rate this a 9.

How complete, accessible, and well presented is the material

There is a great amount of tone, which is necessary to any Polaris re-write.  The rules are complete, if not (I think) entirely function (see above.)  However, since we are playing in a real world setting, I would love to have some more information -- individual facts and figures about each area of Muslim Iberia, a list of some historical personages, maybe even a map.  Similarly, I feel very short-changed in the lack of written-out aspects: I want to see some description, darn it!

This category gets the lowest score, a 6.

How interesting, original, stylish, and "juicy" is the setting?

Since I got into this a bit above, let me just say this: Everyone I've told about this setting wants to play it.  You can't get better than that.  A 10.


Anna, would you like specific suggestions for changes and such in this thread, or another?


Title: Re: Thou Art But a Warrior: Setting Challenge Review
Post by: Anna Kreider on January 12, 2007, 03:15:03 PM
I'd prefer that replies stay in this thread. I tend to forget which thread is which when things get split into multiple threads.

I'm just going to pick out a few points here...

"the level of supernatural"

With the various groups I've played with, there have been discussions before certain games about the supernatural dial that have worked well and lead to a resolution that everyone was happy with. But I suppose it's too optimistic to expect that from every group? In that case, I suppose I should devote more detail as to resolving this issue before play - because I totally agree that trying to have this conversation mid-game would be a show-stopper.

Zeal/Weariness as tied to the downfall of Iberia

I'll admit that I wasn't as interested in the downfall of Iberia as I was in the personal sacrifices of the Knights. That said, I like your suggestion of tying the scores to current events.

Non-fuctional rules?

Any rules advice you wish to offer, I'm happy to take. As previously stated, I am not a game designer, nor do I have pretentions of being one.

Thanks for the detailed feedback!


Title: Re: Thou Art But a Warrior: Setting Challenge Review
Post by: Mikael on January 15, 2007, 12:05:04 PM
Again, a lot of good stuff has already been said. This setting was certainly an easy read, too easy, I guess. The initial sections went by far too fast and left me wanting for more. This is a semi-historical setting, of which I have very little previous knowledge on any level. Thus I encourage you to re-evaluate the stuff you cut out - I doubt that they would be too constraining. As it is, I think I would have some difficulties creating a character and starting the game, even if the same level of vagueness does not bother me at all in Polaris. Here the instant, knee-jerk requirement for "realism" makes it hard to breathe.

The pictures are very peaceful, even though the text refers to combat, strife and cruelty often enough to leave an impression. Is this a conscious design decision, designed to evoke some sort of creative dissonance, or simply due to the fact that not everyone likes drawing swords, armor and bloody combat?

I was also struck by the transition scene, and I definitely second the idea of connecting the events to the scores, although some additional details are needed - are the events tied to the first one reaching that score? or is there a separate version for each player, as a variation of a theme?

Thank you for writing this setting!

+ Mikael

Title: Re: Thou Art But a Warrior: Setting Challenge Review
Post by: talysman on February 02, 2007, 12:19:48 PM
This is the only Round Two game (other than my own) that I didn't review in Round One. I judged it in the same way as Umlaut and The Engine: 0-3 points in each of the four areas, with half-points possible.

- How well is the game system integrated? How well does it seem to fit?
From what I could tell, it fits pretty well, but there's a peculiarity: does the Infidel play not just the violent threat to society, but also the People of the Book that the knight may have to protect, as part of the code of honor? I wasn't certain how this would work out. 2 points
- How will the game presumably work in play, especially with regard to how the setting facilitates a certain kind of play?
Presumably, this game would work exactly the same as Polaris, which I haven't played, but all reports indicates it works well. However, because of the previous comment, I wasn't sure it would work as well as the original. 2 points
- How complete, accessible and well presented is the material?
I  understand the desire to present an abstract version of Moorish Iberia, rather than get buried in historical details, but I think this needs more discussion on how medieval muslim society works. Some of the examples point to intrigue and forbidden love as possible plot complications, but I don't know how these would actually "look" in the setting. 2 points
- How interesting, original, stylish and “juicy” is the setting?
I can't think of any muslim roleplaying games, just a couple of "Arabian Nights" adaptations, so that makes this pretty original. There's also a built-in bit of juiciness: the society treats People of the Book as second-class citizens, which often makes them helpless victims, and thus deserving of the knight's aid; but they are also culturally connected to the infidels in the north, so they are potentially enemies of the state. 3 points

Total: 9 points

Title: Re: Thou Art But a Warrior: Setting Challenge Review
Post by: Sam! on February 09, 2007, 07:10:07 AM
It seems to me that the actual focus of Thou Art But A Warrior is in the muslim-knights, who are losing their faith – they are clearly the protagonists and all the mechanics are aimed to deal with them. As being a confessional Christian myself, I find this very interesting theme. It brings Polaris to a lot more concrete world, which is nearer to our experiences, and makes it therefore a lot more touching.

The problem is that there’s hardly anything in the setting to support playing the protagonists' angst. Instead of giving lots of different situations where the faith of the knight would be challenged, the material goes on and on about the history and social structure of the game world. In other words, this would be a masterpiece, if the setting was about religious knights losing their faith. Now the given setting or the prose describing the world isn’t in resonance with what (I suppose) one is supposed to do in the game or what the game is actually about.