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Author Topic: [Code of Unaris] Don't miss this one  (Read 10985 times)
Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Posts: 16490

« on: September 12, 2004, 08:13:24 AM »


I met Gary Pratt at GenCon, and it's kind of an amusing story if you know me. Julie (jrs) and I were waiting for the doors to open at the exhibit hall, carrying a couple of boxes of books to shore up the stock. We'd arrived a little before the 9:00 opening time; the hall opens to exhibitors at 9 and attendees at 10.

Now, you must imagine this: over and over, various exhibitors would show up, walk up in front of all the people standing there waiting, and bold-as-brass grab the door handles and rattle them, trying to get in. Sometimes they'd glare around at us (me, 'cause I was first in line) and say, "Are they open yet?" I mean, here we all are, obviously fellow exhibitors holding boxes of books, standing there nicely, and these guys think the hall is somehow open for them, and not us?

And get this, one time the previous morning before opening time, this security guy sticks his head out to see the corridor, and exchanged a word or two with the other security guy out there, and an exhibitor walks up and tries to grab the door handle from the security guy, to get in.

This morning, I provided verbal commentary. I addressed Julie and anyone within earshot, which was kind of everyone 'cause I turned around. I discussed the concept of "social contract" and how we all benefited from observing the actual entry times laid down by GenCon LLC. I described the bemusing behaviors I'd just been observing in detail, and how they illustrated an entirely fucked sense of social interaction, dysfunctional personal relationships to the community one finds oneself in, and so on. I was using this kind of growly, surgical-strike professor tone. Since the people in front of me included the various perpetrators (who'd moved to positions near the door in front of the wait-nicelies, natch), I could see them shuffling and wincing.

Then this guy who was near to me, one of my fellow wait-nicelies over to the side, says, "You're Ron Edwards, aren't you?"

Folks who've met me probably find that pretty funny.

Anyway, it turns out that Gary has been a Forge-goer for a while, "just reading a lot," and he launched his book at Origins and had a booth right near the Forge one. I went to the booth ASAP and bought the book, and right there in the introduction, the text shows that he wasn't kidding:

... through it all, what has always attracted me to the medium is not so much the fantasy or sci-fi settings themselves, or the various game systems which managed the gameplay, but the opportunity presented in the game for camaraderie and socialization, and experiencing something "epic" with my best friends, bringing us closer as as result.[/url]

Over the past decade of game texts, this kind of talk is often accompanied by "throw out the system" rhetoric and a system which essentially says "act in character and let the GM tell you how it all works out." Not this time. Gary instead took this principle and applied it very carefully to all aspects of play, especially setting(s), system, and the overall medium. Especially the latter.

You see, Code of Unaris is intended onlyh as a chat-medium game. That means it's not "like a tabletop RPG, only you do it over the computer." Nor is it "a computer game which bears some imagery-oriented resemblance to tabletop RPG." Nope - it is role-playing, but designed to utilize the unique features of chat itself as part of the system. It only has to please one master, so to speak, in terms of medium.

Chat is mainly a bunch of people typing simultaneously, with a minimal time-lag, onto a screen which we can all see at once. Input is usually limited to one or two short phrases, both due to software and also to the need to get what you typed into others' reading space. Apparently people often have a list of catch-phrases in a nearby file that they use for cut-and-paste access, like "Die you bastard" or "I can't believe you did that" or similar.

I had not previously participated in any chat play. Computer-medium play has always seemed to me very much like sex in a literal anesthetic fog - possible, but muffled or muted, to the extent of being likely to lose the essential interactions. The idea that the fog could actually be the medium itself intrigued me greatly.

So how does Unaris play work? Well, there's the usual GM and players, the usual player-characters with various quantified features. However, there are no Fortune mechanics, but rather pure Karma. If you have a 4 and the guy has a 5, he wins. The GM usually reveals the numbers you're up against at some point during a conflict, although usually not before it starts. You can get little bonuses through referring to good tactics and situational details which seem to give you an advantage.

However, the real meat of the system is hacking. In a nutshell, hacking is replacing any word of what the GM just typed with another word. The constraints are:
- only within ten seconds from original typing
- 20 hacks per person per session
- hack GM words only, not fellow players
- GM does not hack
- once-hacked words are immune to hacking
- certain setting-significant words are immune to hacking

I'll just let ya muse on that for a bit before talking about what it's like to play. (oh yeah - one may also hack quantities, increasing or decreasing them by 50%)

The game's setting is kind of threefold. It has a tenuous connection to the modern day such that we (the players) can indulge ourselves in imagining our work actually to be determining the outcome of events long long ago. I see that as the least significant part, although it makes for some really good introductory color text. The other two portions of the setting are set on the Moon, bezillions of years ago.

I am given to understand that these settings were originally submitted by Gary to WotC as part of their big contest which resulted in Eberron becoming a new house setting for a series of products. Gary decided he liked them well enough to develop himself and stuck'em both together as the ancient Third and Fourth Ages of Unaris.

The Third Age is a highly Jack Vance or C.S. Lewis type of gorgeous, sophisticated, violent, and colorful fantasy setting which covers the whole of the Moon. Think of many exotic locales, roguish troubadors, verbose magicians, pompous knights, tattooed and topless sorcerers, suddden duels, and the sun glittering on the lance-heads of an amassed cavalry charge. A lot of the magic involves numbers, engineering, and time, for a light "science fantasy" feel along the lines of Edgar Rice Burroughs.

The Fourth Age is Gormenghast meets For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky, confined to a single tower as the Warlock has laid waste to the rest of the Moon. The tower is mighty big and contains multiple levels, each of which is a fairly isolated culture and which is not doing too well in holding out against the enemy outside, largely because most people have forgotten about it. Think savage cannibals, dark ruined corridors, forests and lakes under eerie artificial skies, and taking The Worm as your personal totem.

The whole "glue" that holds the three of these together are the corruption of the Third Age, the onset of the Fourth Age and its rule by the evil Winter Warlock, and the modern-day "psychic access" to all of this via internet technology. Effectively, players are performing time travel to go back and either play in these ages for recreation, or to strive against the Warlock's minions in an effort to help preserve humanity back then. Again, I don't think the glue is all that necessary, but who knows, it's at least a fun conceit if you want there to be a bigger picture.

Anyway, here's a bit of play from the climax of our scenario. The players are Thalaxis (character = Loki), RonEdwardsGNS (character = Sergovic), and Hobbitroll (character = Hobbitroll); the GM is Grode (Gary, actually). Suffice to say we are fighting a guy named Dagos who blows things up, and some sort of mysterious icy gnome.


Grode: Cold pain lances through all of you.
Grode: Take 3 life damage.
Grode: The walls turn brittle.
Thalaxis: Ow. Ok, fine... incinerate him!!!!
RonEdwardsGNS: resist cold means 1 less, right?
Grode: Yes, one less.
RonEdwardsGNS: Voice of Plutos on Dagos - screw this
Thalaxis: Grumble, grumble... cursed gnome.
Grode: Fire builds up in the ceiling, raining down on the Gnome
RonEdwardsGNS: there we go
Thalaxis: Take that!!!
Grode: Ow...
Thalaxis: Oh, and don't stand next to him :)
Thalaxis: This is not the most precise spell....
Grode: Dagos is withering from the Warlocks undead attack.
RonEdwardsGNS: nah, I'm over by the back door Dagos is trying to blend with, KILLING him with my spell
Grode: Fire is lancing into the room, hurting the gnome.
RonEdwardsGNS: forbidden knowledge, buddy! last chance to give it up!
Hobbitroll: hack hurting to engulfing
Thalaxis: 9 points per round, 3 rounds... is it enough?
Grode: Dagos pulls out the fuse to his stick.
Grode: And sticks out with his dirk.
Thalaxis: Throw a snowball at Dagos.
Grode: At the warlock who is aging him.
RonEdwardsGNS: urh? as in disarming it? well, I'll fight with my 4
Grode: What's your throw, Thalaxis
Thalaxis: Erm... 3, I think.
Thalaxis: Just a distraction.... :)
Grode: ok.
RonEdwardsGNS: i like the snowball, that's the spirit
Thalaxis: I'll throw a few more...
Grode: Ron (forgot your name.) he does a point of damage to you.
Thalaxis: I'd go for incinerate, but I don't want to incinerate Hobbit :)
Grode: You have no armor.
Thalaxis: Or Sergovic.
RonEdwardsGNS: Hobbitroll, how 'bout a song, like "Die you moron"
Hobbitroll: please recap where everyone is
RonEdwardsGNS: right - ow - big deal, I'm stern and forbidden
Grode: The snowballs miss. But you're insulting him fiercely.
Grode: okay. here's recap.
RonEdwardsGNS: I'm at the back door with Dagos in the room that was NOT incinerated
Grode: Yes.
Thalaxis: I'm in the front, watching the gnome melt or something.
Grode: Loki is by doorway throwing snowballs.
Thalaxis: And throwing snowballs in Dagos' general direction.
Grode: Hobbitrolls is in room with Dagos and Gnome
Grode: Actions.
RonEdwardsGNS: indomitable! mean! scary! I wanna +1 for ruthlessness in my Fight 4 to knee him in the nuts
Grode: Dagos strikes again. Take another point as pain shoots through our forearm.
Hobbitroll: attack dagosfight 6 with sword
RonEdwardsGNS: OK - damn, hard to hack that - your word-fu is skilled
Grode: Hobbitroll hits Dagos, who turns and snarls, throwing his dagger.
Grode: Hobbitroll, what's your dodge?
Hobbitroll: 6
Hobbitroll: hundred
Grode: He hits. doing 2 damage.
Grode: lo
Grode: l
RonEdwardsGNS: he's distracted! take the Voice again, spunky! I wanna +1 for a total Cast of 8
Hobbitroll: who throws a freaking dagger at point blank range!
Grode: He withers, his skin blackens.
Grode: He has a better throw:)
Thalaxis: Is the fire still raining down? What's the gnome doing, other than melting?
Grode: Fire is coming down but has caught the room in fire.
RonEdwardsGNS: gah! Loki, Bind him this time! Do it sneaky for a bonus
Thalaxis: Ambush + bind!!!!
Thalaxis: But I'll time it when he gets smacked with a dagger....
Grode: The gnome was concentrating. A circular window of ice forms in midair.
RonEdwardsGNS: hobbitroll, get outta there! over here, not into the fire
Hobbitroll: run away!!!
Grode: Fire come down on Hobbitroll and Dagos.
RonEdwardsGNS: hack to misses!
Thalaxis: When fire lands on Dagos, that's the time for Bonds!!!
Grode: hack what to misses?
RonEdwardsGNS: comes down - and it misses Hobbitroll, not Dagos, if it costs another hack to say so, then OK
Grode: oh, ok
Thalaxis: Hack: the cabin around the gnome is burning... he's still not a happy camper...
Grode: it misses Hobbitroll. Dagos goes down.
RonEdwardsGNS: dudes - he's all explosive and gunpowdery - we gotta book
Grode: the gnome is jumping through the window in space.
RonEdwardsGNS: I'm out the back door
Hobbitroll: run out the back or nearest door
Grode: Two vials roll out of Dago's satchel
Thalaxis: Hack : the ICE window is melting in the fire....
Grode: wait. reading ove r our chat
Hobbitroll: pause for the vials
Thalaxis: Erm... uh oh... grab the kid, head downhill....
RonEdwardsGNS: vial my ass - I'll hold the back door for you, from OUTSIDE
Grode: Loki, you must hack a word from my sentence to make it work.
Grode: lol
Grode: Hobbitroll, the vials are bubbling...viciously.
Grode: The Warlocks retreat.
Hobbitroll: oooh  run
Grode: with the vials...or without?
RonEdwardsGNS: oohh ... is it forbidden? forbidden vials? Ooohhhh ...
Hobbitroll: without
Hobbitroll: what is the warlocks retreat???
Thalaxis: Right... never mind, it's not important.
Grode: you leave viles.
RonEdwardsGNS: ah, probably smarter - then we're off!
Thalaxis: Downhill!!
Grode: You're running.
Grode: Running...
Grode: The snow is lessening.
RonEdwardsGNS: me, you, you, kid, jewel, no vials, and waitaminute, don't we need his body to get paid? Hold up.
Grode: Ka BOOM!
RonEdwardsGNS: aw shit
Hobbitroll: dna testing?
Grode: You're all thrown through the air.
Grode: lol
Grode: Everyone take 1 damage.
Thalaxis: Ow.
Grode: Wood splinters cover the now muddy area.
Grode: An intense fire engulf the cabin and destroys the shed.
RonEdwardsGNS: sigh - I'm gonna see if there were any pieces left - maybe a molar or something - mind the kid
Thalaxis: Go back and look for... remnants?
Grode: You have to wait for 15 minutes.
Hobbitroll: here's a piece that landed on my arm
Thalaxis: With all that snow around, melting into water and putting out the fire? Hack: 5 minutes :)
RonEdwardsGNS: well that'd be 7.5 minutes by the rules, but OK
Grode: There are no pieces
RonEdwardsGNS: hack no to several
Grode: There are several pieces of body lying around.
Thalaxis: 7.5?
Grode: no
RonEdwardsGNS: stinker!

You can see some limitations. A lot of the time, people are typing responses while someone else is still typing their input. There's also quite a lot more of "where am I, what is everyone doing," etc. Paying attention to others' input and keeping "threads on topic" (so to speak) is a big deal; it can't all be centralized by the GM. Thalaxis had a bad habit of sudden non-self-moderated rules-inquiries which ended up obfuscating play rather than facilitating it. GM: "OK, the gnome says ..." Him: "Do I need spell components?" ... that sort of thing. He didn't really grok hacking at all, which given my points below meant he kind of wasn't playing, just "there."

As with all computer interactions, putting a lot of effort into choosing one's play-partners is important. I consider the very feature that most people like about chat (meet anyone, talk to anyone, participate with anyone, yay, we're all together here on line) to be a bug, but that is probably personal taste.

Now for the fun part: the fascinating potential of hacking as an actual medium of play at all points: situation, details, and resolutions.

1. The most basic kind might be called "Noyadint": He hits you to He misses you, for instance; or reducing Six barbarians attack to Three barbarians attack. I don't see it as especially interesting, but it's fun and quick-witted; the significant benefit is that the GM is now empowered to hurl really nasty stuff and not worry about protecting anybody. I kind of like the idea that role-players with a built-in loser mentality will end up seeing the characters hosed and disadvantaged constantly.

I do wonder a bit about something like hacking You fall from the cliff to float, when the player-character has no established ability to float in the air. Perhaps the GM is now obliged to come up with a justification?

2. The next sophisticated kind is just making things turn out the way you most would like to see it. There is a lot more potential here than might strike a person at first reading or at first play.

See - we could have hacked two things that didn't occur to me at the time. The one was "BOOM," which could have been hacked to "fizzle" or "... silence." The other was Gary's answer to my query about the body parts being identifiable, in which he typed "No." Obviously, any player could and should have hacked it to "Yes." Or if we'd been hacking together-like, "An intense fire engulfs the cabin and destroys the shed" could have been altered into a very different outcome with three separate hacks. And so on.

In other words, railroading is impossible. The scenario can't be totally run by any single person at all. Furthermore, on the other end of the spectrum, there are constraints in the rules to keep play from becoming a big old (boring) consensual storytelling session, as hacking is resource-based and subject to the rules I listed above. Ultimately, the players are choosing what they do and don't want to become the significant features of the situation and its outcome, partly through resource management and partly through quick wits.

3. Now for the hacking that interests me the most, and which I don't think will show up in its most fruitful form until the group is both used to the medium/rules as well as pretty tight with one another in terms of themes and goals. It's hacking which amplifies, transforms, and perhaps even increases the risks of conflicts, often at their outset.

a) Gary told me about a session in which various characters were fightin' a dragon in a bar (or so I gather), and a player hacked grabbed in the claws of the dragon to grabbed in the claws of the barmaid[/i, which of course did not remove the dragon from play, but rather introduced a "tight two-shot" on the characters (incidentally saving the player-character from the dragon) and the start of an important conflict and plot for later.

b) Upon reading the rules, I immediately knew that folks like my regular group would hack to transform situations into personal conflicts with their player-characters, as well as into more emotionally-charged relationships among NPCs. If I introduced a character, they'd make him more powerful than I said, and they'd probably make him the brother of one of the player-characters. Family members, rivals, long-lost fellow apprentices, and lovers would crop up all over the place among NPCs I introduced, not only relative to the player-characters but also to one another.

That's the part that really interests me.

And in line with this, the medium offers lots of room for engaging at a personal level. The book's text and examples encourage a great deal of running out-of-character commentary and interaction among all participants, yet not losing the interest in what's imaginatively going on.

 I am really, really eager to play Code of Unaris with folks who are all used to it, or who are willing to get used to it with me. I submit that if one likes a particular feature of any typed material, that one's mind does not make it eligible for hacking even though by the rules it is. I also submit that Code of Unaris should go on the Necessary Reading and Playing list for those of us who care about the theoretical underpinnings of the hobby. This game really demonstrates important stuff, and I think it heralds an entirely new branch of role-playing developments, both in its own medium and as a secondary influence on the traditional one.


Posts: 97

« Reply #1 on: September 12, 2004, 08:52:59 AM »


Thanks for the overview of gameplay from your perspective. And for the detail in which you go review the system's parts and pieces. It means a lot that you took the time (and had fun).

I've hosted a number of chat sessions over the past few months and have to say that players definently leverage the rules in different ways. Some are very restrained in their hacking, and only try to tweek minor things (like the price of ale or who the barmaid likes better). Others go all out and mess with their foe's equipment, emotional state, and/or motivations. This is where it gets the most fun for a gamemaster. Players end up adding layers to the plot that really enhance it. It makes the whole adventure more personal to those playing.

Thanks again for the feedback and review!


Trevis Martin

Posts: 499

« Reply #2 on: September 12, 2004, 12:55:15 PM »

Interesting account.  Thanks Ron!.

Just to mention there is one other game that Alexander Cherry came up with which utilizes the chat medium as part of the game engine.  Specifically the timestamping of messages.  He says on the board that its a somewhat failed experiment but here it is


I'll have to check code of Unaris out.


Jonathan Walton

Posts: 1309

« Reply #3 on: September 12, 2004, 07:07:52 PM »

I stumbled upon the Unaris site just before GenCon and sent Gary (hi, Gary!) an emails talking about how cool hacking was and how neat it was that people were beginning to design games towards specific play mediums.

I especially think that hacking has HUGE potential in a more wuxia oriented game with players that are used to thinking outside the box (Nobilis players, maybe).  Hack "he swings his sword at you" to "he swings his tower at you."  Hack "you burn him with a shower of flame" to "you burn him with a shower of flowers."  Crazy cinematic Sim goodness on the mountains of the moon.

I'm a bit worried by the density of the mechanics, because I've always found that email and chat play tend to drift more towards freeform, especially as people get more and more comfortable with each other.  It'll be interesting to see if this happens with my play of Unaris too (it's next on my list of must-play games after Dogs and Vespertine).


Posts: 97

« Reply #4 on: September 12, 2004, 07:23:56 PM »

Hi Jonathan.
Regarding the mechanics. There is a section in the book that talks about scaling the mechanics to suit your playing style. So instead of using every modifier, a gamemaster can simply use a +1, +2, or +3 bonus modifier to the skill the player is using (depending on how cool or inventive his action was.) This, coupled with simple hack rules, can keep the mechanics down to a minimum.

I think it's up to the players and gamemaster to agree upon the depth of rule implementation beforehand. I tried for a middle ground, where crunch players could interact with more narrative players and still feel comfortable. From what I've found, most diehard tabletoppers tend to think of chat as a loose form of roleplay that they'll only touch if all other game choices are unavailable. Mostly, they just go "bah!" So by putting some structure to the medium, I hoped to change some opinions. Time will tell.

As for chat in general, I think there are some very interesting directions people could explore. One being emoticon chat, where the icons are your actions, not your words. This moves beyond the simple smileyface and into icons of little running feet, shield and attack icons, arrow firing icons, spell icons, ect. This could be a neat little javachat program that an aspiring programmer could wrap their mind around.


Ben Lehman

Posts: 2094


« Reply #5 on: September 12, 2004, 07:58:28 PM »

Hey, Gary and Ron: I was wondering if you could comment on the following --

Based on my reading of the text, it seems that the GM is essentially determining success/failure for the players -- the difficulty numbers are decided on the fly by the GM, the bonuses (and whether they matter) are decided by the GM, and the GM knows the numbers on everyone's sheets.  So the whole game pretty much seems to function by GM fiat at a mechanical level, with the Hacks providing a strong, resource-based source of player credibility.  Did things turn out like this in play?  How is the game not just GM fiat, sans Hacks?


Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Posts: 16490

« Reply #6 on: September 12, 2004, 08:12:26 PM »

Hi Ben,

I was thinking about this same thing upon reading the book. However, in play, it seems clear to me that Gary simply started the scenario with all the opponents just a little better than anything we had ... so if we used momentary advantages and dramatic emphasis, we'd be able to have an effect on them.

This is what I had my character do when he got slashed - as he was a brave guy, I could act all brave and ignore the wound, which I hoped was scary, and then I could get a +1 on my shrivelling awful Voice spell. All this arose from my hacking "laughing" to "cowering."

It is really nonsensical to imagine the system without hacks. There isn't any; the whole system is a foundation for hacking, of the three basic sorts I broke down in my first post.

With that in mind, I think the GM isn't going to get much out of sneaky control-target-number fiat. Remember, fiat is only necessary when the GM has a personal commitment to a scene working out his way. Hacking is going to take that commitment, slap its face, and call it Suzie from the get-go, especially once you get some of the crazed fuckers here playing the game.

So without any such commitment on the GM's part, the values of the opponents (i.e. the target numbers) are simply going to be benchmarks that everyone buys into in order to enjoy the integrity of the setting and the severity of the situations the player-characters are in.

I was thinking about how I might GM stuff, and it struck me that characters' starting values were mighty clever - the "3" that you get for pretty much everything is fine if you face no opposition, but as soon as you meet someone with a "5" (the basic bad-ass value, what you get for your occupation/specialty stuff) you're in trouble. You'll need at least two or three advantageous details to get this guy.

So I figure there are three real levels of skill/ability in the game: 0 (not knowing a trained skill), 3 (common skills at basic/untrained), 5 (solid professional competence).

Anything in the game is therefore merely positioned somewhere in this spectrum, with special reference to stuff which is in between these values.

Ben Lehman

Posts: 2094


« Reply #7 on: September 12, 2004, 08:56:21 PM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
I was thinking about how I might GM stuff, and it struck me that characters' starting values were mighty clever - the "3" that you get for pretty much everything is fine if you face no opposition, but as soon as you meet someone with a "5" (the basic bad-ass value, what you get for your occupation/specialty stuff) you're in trouble. You'll need at least two or three advantageous details to get this guy.

So I figure there are three real levels of skill/ability in the game: 0 (not knowing a trained skill), 3 (common skills at basic/untrained), 5 (solid professional competence).

BL>  There it is.  That scale was the thing that I was looking for, and didn't find, in the book (this should not necessarily be blamed on the text, as I have a tendency to not be able to search my way out of a paper bag).  Awesome.

Well, I'd already bought the game, but this thread sold me on playing it some...

Hmm... anyone up for a game?


Jonathan Walton

Posts: 1309

« Reply #8 on: September 12, 2004, 11:53:30 PM »

Quote from: Ben Lehman
Hmm... anyone up for a game?

This crazed fucker says, "Yes, please."

It'd be fun to experiement a bit too on what would happen if you could hack whenever you wanted to, with just politeness keeping you from hacking *everything* and descending into chaos.

Or what if hacking was the only real mechanic, and both the GM and players could hack, with a limited number for each.  So the players wouldn't declare actions and then try to best some sort of difficulty.  They'd just declare their success and the GM could hack towards failure or a mixed success or whatever else.  That seems like the kind of near-freeform system that would work great with the types of online groups I've been involved with in the past.  It's pretty much a yang-style Universalis bull-headed consensus-building approach, though.

Callan S.

Posts: 3588

« Reply #9 on: September 13, 2004, 12:51:18 AM »

Perhaps a little gamist, but you could have unlimmited hacks but the goal is to use as few as possible. Just because it is to be seen as cool to only use the amount you need. But myself, if I played I'd prefer the limmited hacks the first time...far more solid.

I was also wondering. In traditional table top games, could you have hacks but not so much changing what has been said, but what isn't said (but tied to what is said). So if the GM introduce a mysterious figure, a player can declare its a woman. It has to be in context to the material spoken...what hasn't been said, but what would fit with what has been said.

Okay, that'd be a bit softer, but I was musing...

Philosopher Gamer
Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Posts: 16490

« Reply #10 on: September 13, 2004, 05:02:03 AM »


Callan, that's a big part of my excitement about Unaris that you're illuminating. I suggest that hacking is what really goes on at the role-playing table, face-to-face, a great deal of the time. About what depends on the group:

a) "You cut off his head!" "I was swinging at his chest!" "Oh ... Gunch! Cleaving his sternum in twain!" "Yeah!"

b) "You come upon a small town, with only a few lights visible in the mist." "My uncle lives here, it's a hotbed of dissent under its sleepy exterior." "Cool. I can work with that. OK, so you all approach?"

One of my major dissatisfactions with various forms of electronically-mediated play (PbP, chat, etc) is that this feature gets lost quickly. So to have it be formalized and thrown into a primary role for all aspects of play is very, very interesting.

Ben, Jonathan, I'd like to organize a game for later this week. I'll be in touch. You should register at the forums at the Goldleaf Games site, as I have no idea how to get into chat except through the little sequence of keystrokes I memorized there.


Posts: 97

« Reply #11 on: September 13, 2004, 05:11:24 AM »


RE: scale
Ron said: So I figure there are three real levels of skill/ability in the game: 0 (not knowing a trained skill), 3 (common skills at basic/untrained), 5 (solid professional competence).

This is correct.
For a starting character, a learned skill is automatically a 0. You don't have a rating until you learn it.
Common skills are all rated at a 3.
Professional skills are all rated at a 5.

You receive 6 bonus points at the start of the game so that you can beef these us. You also get a few points at the end of each session.

Most commoners have skills from 0 to 3.
A professional characters have start at 0 to 5 (5 for their professional skills).
Most starting villains vary from 3 to 9, but there are some big dogs in the world.

A character should be able to succeed against a commoners automatically, unless there is a negative applied to their skill test.

A characters will have to do something minor to beat another professional.

A character will have to do something major to beat a higher level villain.

Some villains cannot be beaten in this way. These must be hacked. Perhaps hacking the "solid" battlement to "crumbly"... A creature like a dragon will almost always win out unless your party really works together as a team, eating away at the advantage the creature has over multiple rounds of combat. In this situation hacks would be used to lower its advantage AND keep your characters alive.

At the start of each adventure, I set the stats of the villains and what can and can't be hacked. Then I let the chips fall where they may. There is a 21-page adventure on our site that's free to download. In it you can see that the stats of villains are set.


Jonathan Walton

Posts: 1309

« Reply #12 on: September 13, 2004, 05:56:11 AM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
Ben, Jonathan, I'd like to organize a game for later this week. I'll be in touch.

Sounds great, Ron.  I wanted to write about Unaris in the journal I'm trying to put together, so getting some first-hand play experience would be great.  Just make sure to let me know about a schedule as soon as you decide, because I'm on a 12-hour time difference here (from EST).  I'm willing to stay up late or get up early, but it'd be nice to know if that's going to be necessary.

Going to check out the adventure now, Gary.  Thanks.

Christopher Weeks

Posts: 683

« Reply #13 on: September 13, 2004, 06:12:45 AM »

Quote from: Ron
certain setting-significant words are immune to hacking

Like what?  In all contexts?  Seems like a sly GM could abuse that nicely.  Also, could a player hack some other word into one of those?

Also, is there any limit to the number of hacks, from a single player or many, can be performed on any GM setence?  I'm thinking not from a contextual clue in the transcript.

Quote from: Jonathan Walton
Or what if hacking was the only real mechanic, and both the GM and players could hack, with a limited number for each.  So the players wouldn't declare actions and then try to best some sort of difficulty.  They'd just declare their success and the GM could hack towards failure or a mixed success or whatever else.

What if the GM and the players (or maybe each player) hacked in different ways?  Word substitution, number substitution, word insertion, word deletion etc.

Quote from: Callan
you could have unlimmited hacks but the goal is to use as few as possible

character development could be tied (inversely) to the number of hacks if you wanted motivation.

Quote from: Ron
Ben, Jonathan, I'd like to organize a game for later this week. I'll be in touch.

If this is a more open offer, get in touch with me too.  Dunno how small you want to keep it.

Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Posts: 16490

« Reply #14 on: September 13, 2004, 07:01:28 AM »


I sense a certain "gee, I haven't played it but I'll change the system anyway" gamer-think developing here ...

Guys, c'mon, it's something new. Try it the way it's written before you monkey with it.

Chris, I'm getting the idea that you're not quite processing the list of stuff I posted about hacking. Let me repeat a couple things:

1. The GM never hacks. No hacking by the GM. None.

2. Players only hack GM input. They don't hack each other, nor can a hacked word be itself re-hacked.

3. There is no theoretical limit to how much hacking can be done upon a GM sentence ... except that a given player may only hack once per ten seconds and (as stated above) a hacked word cannot be re-hacked. So there are functional limits upon any hack-session.

Sometimes I think any formal rules permitting direct player input get seized upon by readers and blown up into humongous wild crazy things in their minds. "Oh my God it'll be chaos!!" Trust me - the Unaris rules are very, very well-playtested. Hacking does not turn into an Amber-style "did did not did did not did did not" power-struggle.

Similarly, regarding unhackable words,

Like what? In all contexts? Seems like a sly GM could abuse that nicely. Also, could a player hack some other word into one of those?

Your abuse-meter is ticking overtime.

The unhackable words are highly specific and well-chosen. They concern, for instance, characters' Reputations (part of character creation), so that if a GM were to refer to my character's "Brave-hearted" reputation, another player could not hack it into something else. They also concern elements of the setting like "The Warlock" or a couple of the cities.

The most interesting hack prohibition is "anything to do with Time," which is interesting because time travel between the Third and Fourth Ages is a big deal in the game. I'd rather hold off on discussing this until I've seen it in action during play, and until a number of people here are experienced with the game.

You ask "could some player hack some other word into those," which makes me kind of nervous ... Hacking is replacing one word with another. I'm not sure what you think is meant by "unhackable" if you're proposing this as an alternative of some kind.

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