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Author Topic: Mechanical gender differences II [Mongrel]  (Read 9331 times)
Valamir
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« Reply #15 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.
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rafial
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« Reply #16 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.
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quozl
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« Reply #17 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.
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Christopher Kubasik
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« Reply #18 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
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Valamir
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« Reply #19 on: May 10, 2004, 06:45:26 PM »

Quote
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?


Quote
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.

Quote
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?
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Christopher Kubasik
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« Reply #20 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
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Walt Freitag
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« Reply #21 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).

Quote
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
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Christopher Kubasik
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« Reply #22 on: May 10, 2004, 08:33:01 PM »

Okay.
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