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Author Topic: The Questing Beast - personal opinion  (Read 4421 times)
joe_llama
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« on: January 15, 2002, 02:23:54 PM »

Hi James!

Sorry for postponing my feedback, I was caught up in a few other issues (real life, for example).

First of all, I have to say that I absolutely adore TQB! If this may sound like flattery, know that it is not. Arthurian legend was always high on my scale. Combined with Anthropomorphism, TQB delivers a deadly strike :) I also think that many people will be attracted to such a game - it has a cool name (more on that later) and a cool concept. I'll be keeping an eye on it from now on.

Anyway, this feedback is composed of nothing but suggestions. I'm no expert on how to write RPG's. I probably see problems only in parts which are of great interest to me. I hope that you find none of the suggestions below lame or insulting.

OK, let's dive into the main course.

In order to achieve a comprehensive review of TQB, I have divided the work into several sections: Setting, Mechanics, Writing Style and Layout. This is not typical GNS division, but it will have to do.

SETTING

Well, this is the part where I'm particularily biased toward, so I guess I have no comments here. Just brilliant. As a side note, I recommend reading the folowing Arthurian novels (if you haven't read them already): 'The Once and Future King' by T.H. White and 'The Dragon and the Unicorn' by A.A. Attanasio (being my favorite fantasy novel of all times, right beside Tolkien's LOTR).

I just had a thought: Maybe you could provide a list of suggested reading in the end of the manual. This could help players find sources for inspiration plus they will better understand your game.

MECHANICS
Again, there is little I can comment here. I like the mechanics very much, especially the MOV and MOD (hey, who doesn't like them? :). The rules convey a good feeling of cooperation within the playing group and that's very good.

I assume here that you have playtested TQB's character creation for 'Currency Trading'. I think that there might be a 'Breakpoint of Effectiveness' in Motif creation - all players could possibly 'lock' on a certain distribution of dice to various Motifs. This is just a gut feeling, I haven't tested it so I have no proof of its existence.
 
The only other problem is that I consider myself a lazy person - getting all those dice sounds pretty exhausting. I would definitely get them if my next door neighbour owned a hobby store or a craftshop (he doesn't). There is a possiblity there are other lazy people like me out there, and they might miss out on a good game because the manual says they need dozens of dice. What I'm saying is that maybe you can set a more reasonable minimum of dice and change the current amount into a recommended amount.

WRITING STYLE

James, you are one helluva writer. TQB projects the proper feeling of faerytale fantasy with potential for darker prospects. All stories and examples are very good. I was actually reading TQB before going to bed and it reminded of more than one Grimm tale I read when I was a little boy. If you have more of this stuff and you are afraid of using it - don't be. People like fantasy even if they fail to acknowledge it. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if people's interest in fantasy increased after seeing LOTR, but that is not the topic in hand.

LAYOUT

This section contains the larger part of my review and it will include heavier comments. Layout deals mainly with editorial comments and general design, but I believe many of the suggestions below are aimed toward any RPG designer and not you in particlular. Whenever possible, I will use examples from TQB to establish my points. Certain suggestions may overlap each other - use common sense to resolve. Again, this is a personal opinion strictly based on my personal observation of life, the universe and role-playing :)

(1) General layout. It is obvious that a lot of mushroom-eating was going on when you wrote this game (BTW, have you looked for smurfs underneath?). Somtimes, you started rambling about a certain subject only to cut off abruptly and mention things all over again in another paragraph. I don't blame you - you had inspiration and you wrote it down. The overall arrangement of chapters is good, but I would place the glossary somewhere right after the Introduction. Now that you have to time to go over it once more, please pay attention to the following things.

 (a) Long vs Short examples: Short examples should usually appear in the form of '(e.g. __)'. Instead of 'If your character is a bird then she can fly if you choose to let her' it is better to write '(e.g. bird characters are often able to fly)'.

Long examples should appear in a seperate paragraph written entirely with italics. Instead of:

Quote
'For example, if your Romance says “he carries his father's ancient sword”, then a Motif based on it could read “father's ancient sword”, “always carries his father's sword”, or any such re-wording. But calling it “carries father's ancient magic sword” alters the nature of the item.'


it is better to write:

James' Romance says "he carries his father's ancient sword". Possible Motifs are “father's ancient sword” and “always carries his father's sword” or other similar choices. A wrong Motif would be “carries father's ancient magic sword” because it alters the nature of the item.      

 (b) Proper use of tables: Whenever you have a rule which involves more than two 'items' they should be presented in a table. Gamers have a short memory - tables assist them in searching and handling rules. Since TQB has little numerical mechanics, there is no risk that so few tables will reject the minimalist audience. Instead of:
Quote

 "if you want to be able to add one die to any roll linked to your character's “prairie dog”
Motif, spend one die to get that bonus. Write “+1” beside the Motif. If you want a +2, it will cost 4 dice from your starting Pool, a +3 costs 9 dice, and the pattern continues."


it is better to write a table with 3 coulmns (+1, +2, +3, maybe more) and 3 rows ('bonus', 'initial cost', 'upgrade cost') summing up all necessery information for easy reference. A small remark could indicate the calculation process required to obtain higher bonuses.    

 (c) Tables vs Lists: Today's gamers can be paranoid sometimes. They are easily scared by games which they consider 'restrictive'. Some of the blame lies on page layout. Tables should convey power and consistency, they are tools to be used during the game - always shape tables with borderlines. On the other hand, lists symbolize choice and flexibility, they help gamers better understand the feeling of the game - always shape them without borderlines. Too many items that look like tables and the gamer will unconsciously feel that your game is restrictive (more on that later).    


 (2) Coherence of content. While it's important to keep mechanics coherent, it's equally important to keep the writing itself coherent. To avoid rambling on a subject and losing your audience, make sure you deliver a maximum of one concept per paragraph. Two concepts in a paragraph is bad. An exception to this is the introduction and conclusion of the manual, but they are almost always abstract anyway. Also, if you have to mention an additional concept do so with reference to another section and without elaboration.

 (3) Rules vs Suggestions. Mechanics can be roughly divided into three types:

 RULES - An essential part of the game. Changing a rule is possible but will also lead to a change in the game concept. Rules should use words such as "must" "only" and "always" to emphasize their essentiality.

 PRINCIPLES - A major part of the game. Principles are optional but are considered important to the feeling of the game ("There are many choices, but this one is the best"). Principles should use words such as "should" "best" and "often" to emphasize their importance.

 SUGGESTIONS - A minor part of the game. Suggestions are entirely optional but they help the gamer understand the game ("There are many choices, and this is just a good example of one"). Suggestions should use words such as "can" "possible" and "sometimes" to emphasize their flexibility.

Recognizing and defining the three types helps minimize misunderstandings between players. It also makes sure that the author is properly understood by the reader. Fang's 'Scattershot', for example, elevates the three types to the level of play modes: Mechanical, Specific, and General. Another example is Triad with only 3 rules but roughly twice that number of principles and about a dozen suggestions. TQB is full of the three but it is sometimes hard to tell the difference. If you find it difficult to identify which is what, simply choose a few to be Rules and make all the rest Suggestions.

 (4) Negative vs Positive phrasing. People find it easier to accept positive sentences. Since gamers are somewhat paranoid, negative sentences might be interpreted as restrictive. A game with only a few negative sentences creates a friendly and open reading environment. Most chances are that this will also lead to a friendly gaming environment. Instead of "If you mention special abilities your Hero can use but you don't attempt to define their limitations, you leave
that definition open for your Guide to define" it is better to write "If you mention a Hero's special ability in abstract terms, you leave that definition open for your Guide to define".

 (5) Simple vs Complex words and sentences. It is recommended to use simple words and sentence structures. Also, avoid using slang or gaming jargon whenever you can. This may sound like a minor issue, but it's a fact that there are a lot of German and French gamers out there and they will like your game only if they can read it. Most foreign gamers know only basic English (yours truly) and may lose interest if the language is too complex. If you use a special word, make sure you place it in a simple sentence, and always include an example to show in-game implementation. Also, avoid using 'double-negative' sentences. Instead of 'don't ignore the Guide' it is bettwer to write 'listen to your Guide' (not taken directly from TQB).

 (6) Instructions vs Statements. Gamers remember statements better than instructions. They expect instructions to appear concenrated somewhere they can go back to when needed (as if the game was a manual for an electric appliance). Try to use more statements than instructions. Instead of "Include your Hero's animal form as a Motif" it is better to write "Your Hero's animal form is one of your Motifs" as a rule, or "Your Hero's animal form should be a Motif" as a principle or "Your Hero's animal form could also be a Motif" as a suggestion. Also, try to conentrate instructions into specific sections or lists for ease of reference.  
                 
 (7) Explicit vs Implicit content. Gamers are a smart folk, but they are easily distracted. They like a game if they feel they can easily immerse with it. If this suspension of disbelief will be broken for any reason, they will feel disappointed and may leave the game aside. Considering the fact that there are dozens of games out there, it is very probable that they will never pick it up again. One part of Immersion lies in the writing style. You have no problem there so we move on. Another vital part is the ability to deliver content. Immersion is delivered best using sentences with explicit meaning (not in the sense of 'explicit lyrics') - they avoid confusing the reader, they are direct and to the point, no BS ivolved. But Immersion becomes far more powerful when it is enhanced with implicit meanings. I will give four instances to better deliver my point.

* 'What you don't know can't harm you' (WYDKCHY): This is a basic principle which I use all the time but no one seems to understand it. In my experience, people have the tendency to interpret things according to their own logic. It's possible to speak a sentence with one meaning only to be understood in a different way. The sentence itself is explicit but the mind comes up with implicit meanings. This is often the case conversations between couples. The woman says: "Nobody cares what happens to me" but what she really means is "Please show me that you care". The man who receives only the explicit meaning often fails to see the implicit (unless he is aware of such things). For a good book on the subject read 'Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus' by John Gray (don't judge this book by its cover - it is VERY useful).

The same things is true about gamers - you want to tell them one thing but they will probably understand it differently. All of the suggestions above are useful to minimize this but they never actually manipulate the reader into your way of thinking. It's possible to draw someone into your perspective if you just know how to deliver a proper message through the implicit. For example, the sentence "Motifs do not dictate what your character is limited to doing, they express the areas which are of primary concern to her story" you imply that under similar conditions Motifs are supposed to dictate limits to your chracter. Your intentions are good, but the reader will absorb the 'bad' example as a valid option and only then apply 'good' restriction. This creates both the potential for 'bad' game behavior and invokes the feeling of restrictive mechanics. It is better to write "Motifs express the areas which are of primary concern to the story". Simple as that - WYDKCHY.  
     
* Power Words: These are special words that deliver instant meaning into the reader. When you write: "You are a Storyteller" the reader unconsciously accepts the title and will do his best to deserve it - he will know that his job is to tell stories, not fight monsters. There is little reason to mention other monster bashing because it distracts the reader for his title. Again, this is another example of WYDKCHY.

A 'bad' example of power word usage is the sentence "The definition of a Hero in The Questing Beast is simply the main character of your Romance". The reader gets the impression that he's a hero. Immediately, such images as Superman and Arnold Schwarzenegger kicking villain butt will jump into his mind. He will ignore the definiton and will return to it only after he runs into conflict with his Guide about why his character is so perfect. Even if Superman is hurt by Kryptonite, the reader will not recall this information until much later, when it will have little emotional effect on him. It will be very difficult for the reader to imagine the role of a diseased beggar as a Hero. One soultion is finding another power word - at the moment I can't thin of anything better than 'character' or 'main chracter'. Another solution (less effective IMO) is rephrasing the sentence: "A Hero is a character bigger than life, in both qualities and weaknesses".      

* Self-fueling words. These are words that draw upon the power of their previous use in other places. 'The Questing Beast', for example, uses Arhtruian legend as fuel. Words like 'Motif' 'Cycle' and 'Romance' convey a feeling of powerful emotions involved with playing the game. Words like 'Hallows' or 'Accord', on the other hand, convey a feeling of academic patronizing IMO.

* Closed-loop sentences. These should be avoided at all costs. They confuse a gamer to the point of anger. These are sentences which have inner contradiction, like 'Don't restrict yourself'. The reader will read on, but he will notice the logical error unconsciously and it will interfere with his enjoyment. I don't remember seeing such sentences in TQB but if you happen to find one, get rid of it quickly.


This is it. Let me say this again - all of the above is just my personal, unprofessional opinion. It was given as friendly advice with nothing but good intention behind it. You are free to ignore this completely - after all, it is YOUR game.

In conclsion, I think TQB is fantastic. But like any gem, it needs some polishing before the light of day will make it shine.      
 
With respect,

Joe Llama
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James V. West
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« Reply #1 on: January 19, 2002, 04:32:10 PM »

First let me apologize to Joe for not replying sooner. Sorry Joe. I've been slacking lately.

Quote from: joe_llama

First of all, I have to say that I absolutely adore TQB! If this may sound like flattery, know that it is not. Arthurian legend was always high on my scale. Combined with Anthropomorphism, TQB delivers a deadly strike :) I also think that many people will be attracted to such a game - it has a cool name (more on that later) and a cool concept. I'll be keeping an eye on it from now on.

I hope that you find none of the suggestions below lame or insulting.


Thanks for the kind words, and no, I found nothing remotely lame or insulting. This is all incredible stuff and I probably won't do it justice with my reply. I've said a million times that I'm about 99% gut and 1% scholarship. That's why you're seeing the problems in TQB that you do.

Quote

As a side note, I recommend reading the folowing Arthurian novels (if you haven't read them already): 'The Once and Future King' by T.H. White and 'The Dragon and the Unicorn' by A.A. Attanasio (being my favorite fantasy novel of all times, right beside Tolkien's LOTR).

I just had a thought: Maybe you could provide a list of suggested reading in the end of the manual. This could help players find sources for inspiration plus they will better understand your game.


I've read pathetically few Arthurian novels. I tend to like reading the original source material and/or Arthurian "non-fiction" books more than novels. I attribute this habit to my scavenger instinct. I'm always looking for good ideas for games, comics, and other projects so reading novels makes me feel like I'm trying to copy someone else. Its a personal thing.

However, I will check out the A.A. Attanasio book and T.H. White is high on my list.

Quote

I assume here that you have playtested TQB's character creation for 'Currency Trading'. I think that there might be a 'Breakpoint of Effectiveness' in Motif creation - all players could possibly 'lock' on a certain distribution of dice to various Motifs. This is just a gut feeling, I haven't tested it so I have no proof of its existence.


Alas, TQB remains untested. Its parent game, The Pool, has recieved quite a bit of testing by myself and several others here at the Forge, so I'm fairly certain the mechanics for TQB are solid. But that doesn't mean some things won't need changing.

Quote

The only other problem is that I consider myself a lazy person - getting all those dice sounds pretty exhausting. I would definitely get them if my next door neighbour owned a hobby store or a craftshop (he doesn't). There is a possiblity there are other lazy people like me out there, and they might miss out on a good game because the manual says they need dozens of dice. What I'm saying is that maybe you can set a more reasonable minimum of dice and change the current amount into a recommended amount.


You can get generic d6s at any department store for less than a dollar here. I don't know if that's true everywhere.

Because of the "roll a one" mechanic, you need lots of dice. I suppose you could make the game work with just a few dice and paper-and-pencil method of keeping track of how many you have to roll. But that's not how the game is intended to be played. I don't recommend it, but it could work.

Quote

James, you are one helluva writer. TQB projects the proper feeling of faerytale fantasy with potential for darker prospects. All stories and examples are very good. I was actually reading TQB before going to bed and it reminded of more than one Grimm tale I read when I was a little boy. If you have more of this stuff and you are afraid of using it - don't be. People like fantasy even if they fail to acknowledge it.


That's a kind compliment. The writing is something I'm worried about. I often can't tell if I'm writing something that sounds lame or not and a lot of stuff in TQB is still high on my suspiciously lame list.

Quote

(1) General layout. It is obvious that a lot of mushroom-eating was going on when you wrote this game (BTW, have you looked for smurfs underneath?). Somtimes, you started rambling about a certain subject only to cut off abruptly and mention things all over again in another paragraph. I don't blame you - you had inspiration and you wrote it down. The overall arrangement of chapters is good, but I would place the glossary somewhere right after the Introduction.


Shrooms....hehe.

Indeed, I ramble a lot when I'm writing a draft. And I take a very long time to write or create anything. I used to beat myself up about it, but now I've come to accept it as part of my approach. I'll ravenously write a few pages, then let it sit for days, weeks, or months before going back into it. By then, I often forget some of the things I'd written before so I end up piling more stuff on top like a messy oil painting. Eventually, if I stick to it, I can glean all the useless bits and sift through the whole thing to find the nuggets of gold. This game has not yet reached the nugget stage.

You make a lot of good points about using examples properly. Again, most of this game was hacked out of the keyboard like a pile of wood shavings so they all need some cleaning up and re-writing. Thanks for giving me some solid pointers for doing that.

The idea about using tables and lists is good. I avoided them because I wanted the game to have a simplicity to it that required no referencing. However, I can see where a Motif cost table would be beneficial.

Quote

"Motifs express the areas which are of primary concern to the story". Simple as that - WYDKCHY.  

     
This is good.

You mention the term "Hero" being misleading or having too much baggage attached to it. Perhaps I didn't define it properly in the game and a better definition up front would alleviate such problems. I like the term, and I can't think of one better. "Protaganist" is far too acedemic. "Character" is far too generic. "Hero" is just right becuase it has broad applications. Even though the word itself has a specific meaning it can still be used in a variety of ways if it is clearly defined in the game.

Quote

* Self-fueling words. These are words that draw upon the power of their previous use in other places. 'The Questing Beast', for example, uses Arhtruian legend as fuel. Words like 'Motif' 'Cycle' and 'Romance' convey a feeling of powerful emotions involved with playing the game. Words like 'Hallows' or 'Accord', on the other hand, convey a feeling of academic patronizing IMO.


This is interesting. I see where you're coming from. The terms like Cycle and Romance have some presence already established in the mind (a series of novels is sometimes called a Cycle and a Romance is understood to be a tale of adventure--more or less). But Accord has no real precursor, so it seems alien and new.

However, I do like the terms and I think they convey the right idea once you get to know them.

Quote

* Closed-loop sentences. These should be avoided at all costs. They confuse a gamer to the point of anger. These are sentences which have inner contradiction, like 'Don't restrict yourself'. The reader will read on, but he will notice the logical error unconsciously and it will interfere with his enjoyment. I don't remember seeing such sentences in TQB but if you happen to find one, get rid of it quickly.


I don't understand what you mean here. Can you elaborate with another example?

Quote

In conclsion, I think TQB is fantastic. But like any gem, it needs some polishing before the light of day will make it shine.


Thanks again Joe. Indeed, TQB needs a lot of polishing and a gallon of paint. But this kind of critical response is exactly what I was looking for when I released the first draft.

I am still digesting some of the ideas you mention here. There is a great deal to chew on in this post.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: January 19, 2002, 08:39:13 PM »

Hi there,

I'll hop in and suggest that "Don't restrict yourself" is a rhetorical contradiction - it is telling you not to do something, and the something is not to do things. Kind of like, "Wrap yourself in duct tape to avoid wrapping yourself in duct tape."

Nadav (Llama of Joe-ness), correct me if I'm mis-interpreting. If I'm reading correctly, then I agree with your point in full.

Best,
Ron
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James V. West
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« Reply #3 on: January 19, 2002, 08:53:33 PM »

Oh, I see. So if I said "To avoid having too many Motifs, just keep the number of Motifs limited to a few." that would be something to avoid. Makes sense. When you're actually in the trenches writing a first draft, shit like that pours out of your fingertips before your brain has the chance to properly register what it is you're saying. Then you gotta do even more work in the second draft stage.

At least, that's how it works for me. ;-)
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