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GreatWolf
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« on: April 18, 2001, 02:16:00 PM »

Hmm, if I asked for my own forum, I should probably post in it, eh?

Welcome to the Alyria forum.  Most of you are probably familiar with this game (in progress) from my Dreaming Out Lout columns on the Gaming Outpost.  I would hope to be able to approach our "relationship" a little differently over here.  On GO I see myself as trying to "sell" my game.  Here I would hope to nurture an atmosphere more like a writers' circle, where each offers critique of the others' work in order to hone and sharpen it.  I will try to be less poetic and more straightforward in my descriptions here, in the interest of promoting clarity of communication.

So, my first question would be:  are there any questions for me?

I will try to start other discussions in the days to come.

Oh yes.  You can find more Alyria information at my website.  Just go to the "Works in Progress" section.  My old columns are archived there, as are several Alyria stories that I have written (in the Visions of Alyria section).  I hope to develop this section as time goes on with new stories, art (by others), and other oddments to try to promote both the setting and the game.


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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: April 19, 2001, 06:10:00 AM »

Hey Seth,

How 'bout laying it out for those of us who like outlines and diagrams?

- is the primary resolution method Drama, Fortune, Karma, or a mixture of some of these? What sort of mixture?
- are there more than one resolution methods? (e.g. a different system for magic) Why or why not?
- what's the combination of flexibility vs. definition for starting characters? How about starting competence levels?
- what constitutes "advancement" (hate that word)? Improving abilities? Bulking up on resources? Establishing the character's social, personal, or magical identity?
- what thoughts have you given to Stance? Does the game assume Stance? Leave it wide open? Facilitate one or another stance?
- related to the above, is there a metagame mechanic? If so, what is it?  

And my big kahuna question: given that your Premise is to be driven by Setting, given that your setting is "mythic fantasy," and given that you are providing something of a metaplot (albeit a very creative way) ...

How is Alyria different from Glorantha? I'm interested in setting-based answers, system-based answers (i.e. Hero Wars), and most importantly thematic answers.

Best,
Ron
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GreatWolf
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« Reply #2 on: April 19, 2001, 07:10:00 AM »

Hoo boy!  Lots of questions, with me only having a limited time.  Here's what I'll do.  I'm going to answer what I can now, and I'll come back to catch anything that I missed later.

Also, in the interest of (mostly) full disclosure, system design is still progressing, and therefore some of these answers *might* change as time goes on.  Certainly some do not have a complete answer yet.  Also, I am partnering with another individual who is doing the lead system design work.  I am pleased with what is being produced, but we are waiting until our relationship is completely settled before publicly announcing details.  Therefore I may have to be a bit vague at times.  Hopefully this will not be a problem.

With that in mind, here goes:

- is the primary resolution method Drama, Fortune, Karma, or a mixture of some of these? What sort of mixture?

Primary resolution is Fortune tempered with a high level of Karma.  Drama-based resolution might be incorporated at the metagame level, but the metagame has not yet been designed, so I cannot say for sure.

Essentially when a contest of Attributes occurs (say Force vs. Force), each side rolls against the other's Attribute.  Whoever is successful in meeting or exceeding his opponent's Attribute wins.  If both are successful, whoever has the highest Attribute wins.  "Critical" success is factored in (though I hesitate to call it that), as is critical failure, so that there is always a chance that the underdog can still pull off a win.

- are there more than one resolution methods? (e.g. a different system for magic) Why or why not?

My goal is to keep the resolution mechanic as simple and universal as possible.  At this point, however, the rules for the use of Power (e.g. "magic") are not yet complete.  It is my goal to keep the additions to a minimum, though.  IMHO an RPG should strive to use the same mechanic as much as possible, in order to speed play and facilitate learning the game.

- what's the combination of flexibility vs. definition for starting characters? How about starting competence levels?

Interesting that you should phrase your question this way.  The game system focuses on character morality and virtue.  Therefore, all other areas of character competence are distilled into three Attributes (Force, Insight, and Determination).  At this point we will probably just allow for a free-form design of this part of the character.

Explaining the totality of the Virtue system would be a bit complex in this space.  Let us just say that there is an overall Virtue measurement and moral Traits that are defined.  The interaction between these Traits and Virtue is structured and the definition of these items at chargen is structured as well.

- what constitutes "advancement" (hate that word)? Improving abilities? Bulking up on resources? Establishing the character's social, personal, or magical identity?

Advancement in Attribute is done purely by negotiation with the Narrator as appropriate.  Again, that is not the focus of the game.  Changes in Traits and Virtue, though, are dictated by the gaining of positive and negative points (names still forthcoming on these) that indicate movement towards good and/or evil.  These are earned through character action and experience.  Therefore "advancement" is a matter of tracking the character's moral development (or lack thereof).

I will return to answer the other questions later.  Feel free to comment on the answers given so far, though.

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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
GreatWolf
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« Reply #3 on: April 19, 2001, 12:36:00 PM »

Okay, continuing to give answers to Ron's questions:

- what thoughts have you given to Stance? Does the game assume Stance? Leave it wide
open? Facilitate one or another stance?

The game does indeed assume Stance, and I would say that Author stance is primary, with Actor stance being used secondarily.  This is especially important, since the option is open to allow players to portray all main characters, both good and evil.  A game that encourages Actor stance for evil characters is asking for trouble, IMHO.

Director stance *during* play is probably going to be limited to minor effects outside of any metagame mechanic that may be implemented.
 
- related to the above, is there a metagame mechanic? If so, what is it?

Will there be a metagame mechanic?  Yes.  What is it?  I don't know yet.  I do think that one needs to be implemented, especially in light of my "metaplot" ideas.

For those not in the know, my plan is to allow for Directorial control of events in the world situation by the players.  This means that the group as a whole can dictate any wars, assassinations, natural disasters, etc. that happen.  This idea is still being worked on, but that is one of my goals for Alyria.

I will have to save the answering of the big kahuna question until later.

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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: April 19, 2001, 01:35:00 PM »

Great answers all around, Seth. I seem to see a slight influence from my "Honor" notions, which is of course Perfectly All Right.

I agree with you regarding playing evil characters; i.e., that Author stance is the only thing that makes such a course tolerable. This harks back to the Dickweed discussion in the GO/Sorcerer forum. (I wonder what Dav Harnish or Micah Sauntry might say about that, though? Obsidian offers a very unusual view regarding role-playing evil.)

I have an idea. Give me a verbal picture of an Alyria Hero, a character who's been played a little while. Don't use any game terms unless you want to.

Best,
Ron
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GreatWolf
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« Reply #5 on: April 19, 2001, 06:05:00 PM »

At last!  The final part of my response to Ron!

 - And my big kahuna question: given that your Premise is to be driven by Setting, given that
your setting is "mythic fantasy," and given that you are providing something of a metaplot
(albeit a very creative way) ... How is Alyria different from Glorantha? I'm interested in
setting-based answers, system-based answers (i.e. Hero Wars), and most importantly
thematic answers.

Okay.  A big kahuna question deserves a big kahuna answer.  Settle in; this could take a
while.

First, I would not classify Alyria as "mythic fantasy".  I have adopted the term "technofantasy"
in an attempt to better focus the feel of the genre that I am using.  If it helps, one of my major
sources of inspiration is The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe.  Glorantha seems to be roleplaying the epic heroes of the bardic legends, like Hercules or Beowulf.  Alyrian heroes are not necessarily of such grandeur or power.

Secondly, I should offer the caveat that I am not very familiar with Glorantha.  I have a basic
understanding of the epic feel of the world, and I have a feel for the concepts behind the
system, but I have never actually read Hero Wars, so I cannot comment in detail.

That being said, let me begin by commenting on my perceived difference of theme.  Glorantha seems to be set in the dawn of the world, when the gods were young and heroes bestrode the land.  (Again, these are my *perceptions* and not necessarily accurate.  Please correct me if I am wrong.)  The focus of the game is on the hero as quester, both physically and spiritually.  Therefore, the Gloranthan hero fits nicely into the Campbellian monomyth, bringing the benefits of his questing back to the community from which he left.  The Gloranthan hero is an exemplar of his community.

On the other hand, the Alyrian hero can best be summed up from this quote from Thoreau.  "A very few, as heroes, patriots, martyrs, reformers in the great sense, and *men*, serve the state with their consciences also, and so necessarily resist it for the most part; and they are commonly treated as enemies by it."  ("Civil Disobedience")  I took this quote from the beginning of the story "'Repent Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman" by Harlan Ellison.  The Harlequin in this story could very easily be an Alyrian hero.  The Alyrian hero examines the world around him and sees that it does not measure up to the moral standard to which he is committed (and towards which he strives).  Therefore, out of concern for those around him, he is driven to action which may actually put him at odds with the values of the society around him.  The Alyrian hero is a pariah in his community.

At the same time, the Alyrian hero must struggle against the evil within himself, the corruption that threatens to erode his standards from within.  A hero may die and remain heroic, but a hero that falls to corruption is no longer a hero.

Also, the overall tone of Alyria is much darker than that of Glorantha.  Again, from my perception, Glorantha "theme music" would be something by Clannad, where Alyria "theme music" would probably be Smashing Pumpkins (from the Adore album).

The settings seem worlds apart as well.  My impression is that Glorantha is primarily a pristine setting with perhaps some invasion of dark forces, although I know that there is a developing metaplot of which I know nothing.  On the other hand, Alyria is an apocalyptic setting, threatened both by the dragons from below and the Outsiders from above.  Moreover, social forces are stirring that threaten to rend apart the emerging civilizations from within, and war threatens to destroy this fledging world.  If a brief description of the Gloranthan setting were provided, I would be better able to offer contrast and comparison.

Finally, the developing Alyria system is fairly rules light with a low handling time.  One die roll by each side is sufficient to resolve a given narrative unit.  The Hero Wars system, while interesting and innovative, does seem to be a bit rules-intensive (relatively speaking), potentially requiring several die rolls to resolve an action.  However, both are similar in that they place a focus on attributes other than the merely physical.  In Hero Wars, things like your connection to your community are important, as they can enhance your abilities.  In Alyria, your moral Traits can be used in place of your normal Attributes (if narratively appropriate), enhancing your chances of success.  (Of course, this also reinforces the Premise, as your choice of Trait, good or bad, will potentially give you positive or negative points, thus shifting your overall moral status.)  So the systems are not completely alien to each other.

The biggest difference, I think, is the incorporation of worldplot into the Alyrian system.  The stats for a community or institution can be given using exactly the same Attributes as a character (Force, Insight, and Determination) as well as Virtue and moral Traits.  Therefore, no new system needs to be crafted for interactions between villages, institutions, or even nations.  This ease of use should allow for the easy manipulation and resolution of worldplot events.

Well, I think that I addressed all your concerns.  Hopefully this big kahuna answer was sufficient, although I would still be interested in more discussion.  Comments and questions are, as always, welcome.
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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: April 20, 2001, 07:10:00 AM »

Hey Seth,

This is an Alyria forum, not a Hero Wars one, so I guess it's tricky to keep from going into unnecessary detail about Glorantha. I'll try to keep my comments comparative. There is one philosophical issue that might need dissecting, though.

Let's see (not in order) ...

1) Glorantha is not really a dawn-of-time setting, but it can seem like that, because the characters may enter "Godtime," actually entering the myths of their culture and participating for a variety of purposes. The mundane-world setting of Glorantha is actually pretty apocalyptic, or at least the characters think so - the term "Hero Wars" refers to a clash of cultures that is so extreme that some individuals achieve heroic, mythic proportions on both sides.

Your statement,
"social forces are stirring that threaten to rend apart the emerging civilizations from within, and war threatens to destroy this fledging world."

describes Glorantha perfectly, as well as Alyria. So there's some overlap here.

2) I should also point out that heroes in HW are often not granted the privilege of being exemplars of their communities - often, they must adopt a novel and personal judgment regarding their lives and the overall culture clash, and it is THAT judgment which gradually achieves mythic status. One or more of the community/relationship abilities, which are so important to the game, often has to be sacrificed on the path to heroism. So there's perhaps more overlap with Alyria here than you were perceiving, although I can see that some HW players might adopt a kind of kindergarten-version which would simply designate a given side of the culture-clash as "good" and take it from there.

I do agree, however, that your strong statement that the Alyrian hero MUST be a pariah is definitely distinct. Was this an over-statement on your part? It was kind of a jump from your point that the hero is acting from conscience, and therefore MAY be at odds with his community (which is consistent with Hero Wars), to "pariah," which is pretty extreme.

3) The HW system is a one-roll system, vastly unlike the RuneQuest system that was previously associated with Glorantha. One may even resolve entire scenes (e.g. fights) with single rolls, although breaking it up into sub-scenes (never single actions) is also possible. On the other hand, augmentation rolls do add to the system - one may roll four or five times, sometimes, to bulk up the bonuses to the intended ability.

4) "stats for a community or institution can be given using exactly the same Attributes as a character (Force, Insight, and termination) as well as Virtue and moral Traits. Therefore, no new system needs to be crafted for interactions between villages,           institutions, or even nations. This ease of use should allow for the easy manipulation and resolution of worldplot events."

There we go. That's definitely different, and since HW also wrestles a bit, design-wise, with a highly-structured setting vs. controlling metaplot, it represents an important design step.

I've never read the massive tomes that comprise the game Aria, but I'm given to understand that players are involved in world-creation, community-creation, and so on. Do you know much about this game?

5) And the first shall be last and the last shall be first ... I saved the "mythic" issue for my final point. Basically, we differ a bit regarding what this means. I consider The Book of the New Sun to be drastically mythic, not only in its reference/grounding to Christianity, but in its setting-based terms as well. I think that Severian, as the Conciliator, is as significant/powerful as a character can get.

The techno-elements of the Alyrian setting, as opposed to the bronze-age elements of Glorantha, aren't relevant to me in terms of "mythic" content. My take is that such content involves stories that demonstrate the functional limits of the human condition (morally, socially, romantically, and otherwise) - we see elements of transgression in myth, and consequences thereof, that ordinarily don't come into story-telling (e.g. the weird births of some heroes, or the propensity of some to random violence). The hero is often in an untenable moral situation, expressed in part as literal conflict with god-level beings, and in part via overt symbolism in everyday life.

So in these terms, I see some overlap with Glorantha ... although I hasten to add that this is NOT a bad thing, especially for "mythic" content - we NEED more role-playing games that address this sort of story, especially in which moral responsibility and consequences actually enter into the system (which you have done admirably, and I have tried to do in Sorcerer). So I'm not accusing you of re-inventing the wheel, but praising you for doing something that only a few RPGs, or maybe only one, have ever tried.

Best,
Ron

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GreatWolf
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« Reply #7 on: April 20, 2001, 11:20:00 AM »

Quote

I do agree, however, that your strong statement that the Alyrian hero MUST be a pariah is definitely distinct. Was this an over-statement on your part? It was kind of a jump from your point that the hero is acting from conscience, and therefore MAY be at odds with his community (which is consistent with Hero Wars), to "pariah," which is pretty extreme.


"Must be" is overstating the case a bit but I would say that it is the most probable result.  Part of the reason is that the cultures that I am developing each have distinct core beliefs or assumptions that should grate against the conscience of the hero.  Therefore I would have a hard time seeing a hero who wholeheartedly supported the Citadel or the Ark.  This facet of the game could be emphasized or de-emphasized, but I think that it will probably always be there.

Of course, stating the issue like so does seem to put Alyria closer to Glorantha than I would have expected.

Quote

 The HW system is a one-roll system, vastly unlike the RuneQuest system that was previously associated with Glorantha. One may even resolve entire scenes (e.g. fights) with single rolls, although breaking it up into sub-scenes (never single actions) is also possible. On the other hand, augmentation rolls do add to the system - one may roll four or five times, sometimes, to bulk up the bonuses to the intended ability.


In Alyria any augmentation is done either through expending Resource to avoid a die roll (just dictating the result) or by swapping in Traits in place of Attributes. Therefore the additional rolling of Hero Wars is not present.  We do share the commonality of "narrative units", by which I mean resolving as much action as seems to be appropriate for the story.  A "wandering monster" fight, for example, could be resolved with one roll, while a battle with a longtime nemesis should have more detail than that.

Quote

I've never read the massive tomes that comprise the game Aria, but I'm given to understand that players are involved in world-creation, community-creation, and so on. Do you know much about this game?


Just a bit.  I looked at a review of the book that dealt with world plot events.  From the description, it appeared more Simulationist in design, almost a mini-game within the RPG at large.  Each nation had X number of action points to be spent on actions from this list....  That seems like too much structure for what I would like to do with Alyria.  My goal is to have a simple system in place to be used when it is narratively required.  Also, as I said, since the system should be functionally identical to the one used for character interaction, the rules-weight is kept low.  Rather elegant, if I may be permitted to say so.  (Of course, it's not done yet, so that may be premature self-congratulation.  :smile:)

I'm not going to copy the "mythic" portion of Ron's post in the interest of space.

Given your definition of terms, I would have to agree that Alyria does fall into the "mythic" area of fantasy.  (As would the Book of the New Sun, BTW.)  I agree that this is not a bad thing, either.  I think that so many fantasy books and RPGs these days focus too much on the trappings of the genre without giving too much thought to the philosophy behind fantasy.  In a way, modern fantasy is an outgrowth of the ancient mythmakers.  The stories by Tolkien, MacDonald, Lewis, and others were written in part to encapsulate certain ideas and values.  For example, as my anonymous (for now) partner and I have been working through the system design, we have been drawing heavily on Lord of the Rings for inspiration.  We both agree that, at its core, Lord of the Rings is about *moral* conflict.  The armies surrounding Minas Tirith are impressive, but the real struggle is against despair (one which Denethor loses).  The crossing of Mordor isn't merely about physical privation; it's about moral perseverance, the strength and weight of duty, and the internal struggle against one's own evil.  These are the types of struggles that I would like to encourage in Alyria stories.

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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
GreatWolf
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« Reply #8 on: May 11, 2001, 08:38:00 PM »

I must definitely be a bit slow on the uptake.  All this time I've been focusing on game design differences between Glorantha and Alyria, and I've gone and missed the most important difference.

In my mind, mythic fantasy is always about the conflict between good and evil...as defined by the author.  So, for Tolkien, Good and Evil were fairly normal Christian concepts, while for Moorcock there was Law and Chaos, each with its own weakness.  Therefore, any mythic fantasy will, of necessity, express the worldview of its creator.

As I understand it, Glorantha is heavily influenced by Greg Stafford's interest and beliefs in animistic principles.  (I'm open to clarifications and corrections on this point.)  Therefore his world embodies these ideas.  Or so I am told.  I am not familiar enough with Glorantha to back up this point.

To the same end, I would say that Alyria has, at its roots, my understanding of good and evil as rooted in Christian conceptions.  As the setting is really an expression of a worldview, this will have a radical effect on the crafting of the world, as well as the mechanic that runs the game.  I will bet that, more than anything else, this is the single biggest difference between Alyria and Glorantha.

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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #9 on: May 14, 2001, 05:25:00 AM »

Hey,

I won't presume to speak for Stafford in regard to his own beliefs and so on, but I do think that Glorantha's "moral cosmology" permits a wide variety of interpretations. The deity-level beings are often blurry about good and evil, very much in the model of Norse, Babylonian, and Greek myth - their roles in myths, in fact, usually symbolize those moments when good and evil emerge unpredictably from very familiar behavior (i.e. much like our own). In many ways, this provides the very foundation for the Hero Wars themselves, as people, via cultural conflict, thrash out just how they want to interpret certain symbols and realities.

So without getting into any differences of AUTHORIAL viewpoint, and hopefully without caricaturing Stafford (as is common on the Internet), I agree with you on this point.

[You might be interested to know that part of Glorantha which hasn't seen much print until recently is based very firmly on a rational Christianity model, c. late medieval times. In my opinion, the approach taken in the text is not contemptuous or patronizing toward this world-view. It IS presented as a "world-view" rather than as a foundation, just like all myth/magic in Glorantha. The animistic view is also presented as a "world-view" rather than Truth, by the way.]

Best,
Ron
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