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Author Topic: Mechanical gender differences II [Mongrel]  (Read 9534 times)
Ron Edwards
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« on: May 09, 2004, 08:50:53 AM »

Hello,

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

Now, Ben took a lot of heat in the thread Mechanical gender differences. Let's assume that all that same heat can be applied (appropriately, inappropriately, whatever your mileage says) to me, for my game. Let's also put all that aside as long as it pertains to actual people and society: such rules may be right or wrong, dumb or smart, justified or unjustified at the societal level. I'm OK with that.

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

Open mike!

Best,
Ron
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neelk
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Posts: 126


« Reply #1 on: May 09, 2004, 11:41:14 AM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards

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


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

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

What's more, this particular combination is specifically noted as prohibited in the rules. Why?
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Neel Krishnaswami
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« Reply #2 on: May 09, 2004, 12:07:59 PM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
Most specifically, how does each set of constraints relate to the other aspects of the game: well, poorly, can't tell, or what?


Well, here's what bugged me the first time I read the rules for Mongrel.  Physique has a cascading mechanical relation to effectiveness all over the rules, but Beauty is never mentioned again except to say that you can soak damage with it.
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quozl
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« Reply #3 on: May 09, 2004, 02:53:36 PM »

First, give a link: http://www.indie-rpgs.com/files/mongrel.pdf

Now, about the sex differentiation:

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

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

P.S.  I'm being a bit more blunt here because I suspect Ron can handle it.
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--- Jonathan N.
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Valamir
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« Reply #4 on: May 09, 2004, 04:48:09 PM »

I'm going to disagree with you quite strenuously there Jonathan.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

What differenciates Mongrel from Eclipse, is that in Mongrel, this gender and age distinction has a very clear, and very informative reason for existance.  Despite repeated inquiries, I have yet to see any similarly profound rationale for the differentiation in Eclipse.
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neelk
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« Reply #5 on: May 09, 2004, 05:16:19 PM »

Quote from: Valamir

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


Nope.  I'm criticizing the game because the rules don't permit me to create character types that are common in the books and epoch that the game itself says the setting was modelled on. Those archetypes exist in the source materials mentioned in the game text; if they are really "outside", then those references shouldn't be in Mongrel at all.
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Neel Krishnaswami
Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #6 on: May 09, 2004, 05:35:17 PM »

For those who, like me, have trouble finding the the gender specific rules in the 12-page Mongrel pdf:
Quote
Attributes[/b]
The six attributes are Size, Spirit, Physique, Beauty, Speed, and Social. They are used primarily as target numbers and resource banks during play.

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

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


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


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

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


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

This may be attributed mostly to Mongrel being a proto-game and, as such, unfinished. If it ever becomes finished, I would suspect these issues would be addressed.
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Valamir
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« Reply #7 on: May 09, 2004, 05:40:26 PM »

Quote
One of the manuscript reviewers hated the Houses with a passion, considering it to be an example of
“habit and imitation” just like I criticized in the essay. My only defense, such as it is, is that I think a
Dune-like noble-house context seems right for the setting and Color, so I went with it.


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

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

If not, you extrapolating this into a whole range of "source material" that the "setting was modelled on" is actually a perfect example of the sort of bringing-in-stuff-from-the-outside, that I was talking about.  I don't see any source material mentioned in the games text that would lead me to assume those archetypes exist...
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Andrew Martin
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« Reply #8 on: May 09, 2004, 06:00:53 PM »

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


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

The withered and wrinkly old bat says to a friend, "in my youth, I was considered quite a stunner..."
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Andrew Martin
Ben O'Neal
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« Reply #9 on: May 09, 2004, 07:24:44 PM »

I think this thread is starting to drift a bit...

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Ben
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #10 on: May 09, 2004, 08:06:46 PM »

Hey,

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

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

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

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

Best,
Ron
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Ben O'Neal
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« Reply #11 on: May 09, 2004, 08:17:11 PM »

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

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

Over and out.

-Ben
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neelk
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« Reply #12 on: May 10, 2004, 05:21:23 AM »

Quote from: Valamir

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


Yes, this is the other part:

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


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

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


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

Here's how I read games:

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Mongrel, I see a much weaker motivation for the mechanical differences between sexes than you do, because I don't put the mechanics in the driver's seat.  As a reader, the side-comment about Dune is more important to me than the character creation system, because it tells me something about the systems of signifiers that Ron was drawing upon while writing the game.
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Neel Krishnaswami
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« Reply #13 on: May 10, 2004, 07:24:28 AM »

Since I was active in the previous thread, I feel somewhat honor-bound to address Ron's question in this one. (I'm not stepping into Ralph and Neel's debate, though, which I find fascinating and would like to see it continued on its own terms.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Walt
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Wandering in the diasporosphere
quozl
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« Reply #14 on: May 10, 2004, 12:07:33 PM »

Quote from: Valamir
I'm going to disagree with you quite strenuously there Jonathan.


This is what it boils down to for me:

Is the gameplay about the differences in age and sex?

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