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Author Topic: [Doctor Chaos] Next phase playtesting  (Read 4453 times)
Ron Edwards
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« on: August 28, 2005, 10:13:21 AM »

Wow, this is weird, posting in Indie Design. I tend to keep my designing pretty private.

Playtesting so far has included the session described in [Doctor Chaos] Cards, bad guys, a hefty session at the Embassy Suites lobby (Gordon, Rob (RobNJ), Chris (Bankuei), Judd, and Michael Miller), and a brief but very useful session at the booth (Mike Holmes, Keith Senkowski, and someone else).

I'm discovering something: in a game that's to have a system-driven transformation of the rules as it goes along, that you can't playtest phases of play until you get the prior phases right. I'm not talking about anything so arbitrary as "after two hours, everyone now gets a +1 to hit," or anything like that, but rather the kind of change in play-space, resources, and opportunities that are characteristic of most card games. Capes is like this, and so is My Life with Master. As you play, the numbers change so that the same rules are now having very different impacts upon the situations.

Anyway, I was in on some playtesting for My Life with Master, and I'll hesitantly speculate that playtesting typically did Master creation, often did a few scenes, occasionally did late-stage pre-defiance scenes with Horror Revealeds, and only rarely developed an Endgame squarely by the rules (for instance, my playtests often skipped to Endgame). Hence the textual game has perfect Master creation rules, very good resolution rules, gets a little puzzling about Horror Revealed and a few things about defying the Master, and then sharpens up a lot with Endgame and Epilogues. The clarity reflects the extent of playtesting.

(And hey, if I'm totally wrong, Paul, then it's no big deal. I'm really talking about Doctor Chaos, not about MLWM, and I'm only using the latter as a possible illustration, emphasis on the "possible.")

I'm running into this with Doctor Chaos, because I'd really like to playtest the part that I don't have the best handle on, yet since it depends on earlier phases occurring through actual play, I tend not to get there quite yet. Or perhaps another way to put it is that I'd like to work on a later phase, but simply have to sharpen up earlier phases into their most refined form first.

Part 1 is merely creating Doctor Chaos and one lesser villain. The former will be played by almost everyone at the table; the latter will be played by one and only one person at all times. No superheroes are created prior to play.

Part 2 is composed of at least a couple of initial scenes, in which statistically Doctor Chaos is very likely to kick the asses of the heroes who have appeared to stop his plans. It's also statistically likely that he will be forced to abuse at least one hero, which permits that hero to return, later, with many game assets.

All the playtesting so far has only accomplished the refinements for the game as a whole and for Parts 1 and 2. For instance, as of now, the mechanics which lead Doctor Chaos to try to defeat the heroes dismissively, yet putting himself at risk to fail to achieve the current step in his plan, are pretty good. Now, playing Doctor Chaos (and using his deck) automatically move after each turn; you can steal him, but you can't keep him. I initially wanted ten cards per hand, then whittled it down to seven, which works very fast and yet very well. I parsed out what exactly gets narrated at different points. One and only one guy gets to (and has to) play a lesser villain. Stuff like that.

Part 3 is going to be the hardest part. It's composed of scenes in which the lesser villain's plan has probably managed to squeak in a success or two, and developed heroes may well be active and operating in tandem. My hope is that statistically, Doctor Chaos may succeed in the current conditions for his plan, but that he also may well not. This is where the role-playing decisions and the card-mechanics (which are not very card game like, at this point) need to be really sharp. Since I'm not as savvy about cards as I am about dice, that also means it's the phase which might end up getting playtested through various versions of total ass. You need very tolerant playtesters for this sort of thing.

Part 4, well, I dunno yet. This is the part where Doctor Chaos is basically one victory away from succeeding in his plan, or one loss away from failing entirely. I really like the end-stage conditions I've come up with, but haven't seen them happen in play yet (i.e. still refining part 2). I'm better off just letting it ride, at this point.

The text of the game has seen a lot of changes and refinement, and I've discovered that it's frustrating that the playtesters so far aren't seeing it. When you present the material verbally, it's hard to know what you need to include. In a couple of cases, people have been utterly flummoxed by something that was very clear in the text, but which I didn't say at the right moment.

One interesting development is how helpless non-comics people are. They have no idea what constitutes a superhero or supervillain, and since the only ones they've encountered are the highly-developed, highly-nuanced versions they've seen in movies, they stall out instantly. This is a case in which I have written very, very clear rules for what you say when you introduce a hero, but I think I need to put a section in the text which warns comics people to make sure the non-comics ones read those rules.

My current vision for the game is a stapled booklet very much like My Life with Master, although in standard digest dimensions, perhaps 6 by 9 inches. I'd like the covers to be stiff and glossy, and for the interior to be eminently fun to read. In fact, some of you will probably be pretty surprised at the tone and general approach - not jokey, but fun and clear.

I'd like to open this thread for open questions, especially for people who haven't seen anything at all. Your questions will help me figure out what sort of text I'm totally forgetting about that needs to be in the game.

Best,
Ron
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Graham W
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« Reply #1 on: August 28, 2005, 12:24:17 PM »

Ron,

What I haven't quite got yet is the tone of the game. Is it an affectionate parody of superhero comics, or an attempt to recapture how exciting they were, or something else? Will it go into deeply dark areas or will it be deliberately superficial? If I play this, will I be yelling at people around the table or sitting quietly trying to work out how to defeat their evil plans with the cards in my hand?

And again, I'm fairly new here, so if the questions are irrelevant, please ignore.

Graham
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Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #2 on: August 28, 2005, 01:05:44 PM »

One interesting development is how helpless non-comics people are. They have no idea what constitutes a superhero or supervillain, and since the only ones they've encountered are the highly-developed, highly-nuanced versions they've seen in movies, they stall out instantly.

As a non-comics person myself (I don't think I have ever read a superhero comic book), I'm glad you recognized this.  Superhero-oriented gaming has always been a weird mystery to me, because there are, apparently, certain tropes and rules of appropriate behavior among superheroes and supervillains that are never articulated, at least to me.  You just absorb the code of conduct through years of osmosis, apparently. 

I mention this because I'd find Doctor Chaos much more accessible if the hero/villain roles were somehow mechanically reinforced, or the secret code was spelled out, or it supported a pretty broad definition of hero and villain.  Could you set the dial way low to handle office politics, for example? 

--Jason
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Troy_Costisick
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« Reply #3 on: August 29, 2005, 04:04:11 AM »

Heya,

I would at this point appologize for not being the most qualified to comment/ask questions about your work, Ron, but I've found that you've never cared for appologies and seem to value everyone's contribution.  So I'll skip all that.

Anyway, I may just be misreading a few things, but right now what you've written doesn't tell me a lot about your game.  It sounds cool, and I really like the line that Jason quoted.  But I have a few questions that help me evaluate a design and form a base for further questions I might have.  If you could, answer them at your own convenience:

1. What is your game about?
2. What do the characters do?
3. What do the players do?

I think the answer to #1 is that the game is about villains and superheroes, but what aspects about them are you focussing on?  What makes the heroes of your game different from the heroes in other games, say Capes for instance?

For number 2, I gather that the characters fight Dr. Chaos.  But is that all they do?  And how do they do anything?  Lastly, what is advancement like, if it exists at all?  Is success guaranteed, or is something else at stake?

In the last question, I'm basically asking what the relationship between the characters, Dr. Chaos, and the players is like.  It looks like Dr. Chaos floats around, but how does that not create a conflict of interest at times for players?  What is the reward for playing Dr. Chaos?

I may have more questions later, but this is enough for now.  I hope this line of questions is helpful to you as you continue to work on your game.

Peace,

-Troy
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: August 29, 2005, 07:09:33 AM »

Hi Troy,

Ah, I've always wanted to answer these questions in Indie Design. Don't forget to check out my first thread too; some of your questions (especially at the end) indicate to me that you haven't.

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1. What is your game about?

It is about the uber-villain. The uber-villain is monstrously powerful and, unlike many other comics villains, ideologically understandable. He "has a point." The game concerns whether his master Plan succeeds.

Quote
2. What do the characters do?

Doctor Chaos seeks to fulfill the conditions for his Plan. He must cope with superheroes who show up unexpectedly and thwart him, mainly because his own Issues (all capitalized terms are game rules) open windows for them. His Issues tend to become richer and more nuanced as play proceeds. He defeats the heroes dismissively if he can, but often abuses them instead. He also tries to keep a lesser villain (who has his own Plan) under his thumb to aid in his big Plan, using the villain's Hook.

Heroes thwart Doctor Chaos. When introduced, they are incredibly sketchy, and only develop as their Persons are abused at the hands of villains who defeat them. They may or may not so develop, and only a few are expected to become what, in other games, are called "characters."

The lesser villain is the most complex character. He or she has a Plan (simpler and smaller-scale than Doctor Chaos') and as a character, the LV is less rules-laden than Doctor Chaos in general. A lesser villain may well end up being an obedient minion, a defiant small-fish, an anti-hero (by whatever definition), or even a full-fledged nascent superhero, depending on the wide range of actions and outcomes.

Quote
3. What do the players do?

With one exception, they play Doctor Chaos' cards when it's their turn to do so (or when they've managed to steal him), and play superheroes' cards when it's not. Yes, there is a conflict of interest embedded in that. It's there on purpose. From the text:

Quote
The whole game is about Dr. Chaos’ plan and where play-as-a-whole is, relative to that.

•   Maybe you want Dr. Chaos to succeed while you control him
•   Maybe you want Dr. Chaos to succeed and don’t care who controls him
•   Maybe you want him to fail, regardless of who controls him
•   Maybe you shift among these outlooks or among others as play goes along

Goals of play are therefore not absolutely fixed in terms of "Doctor Chaos succeeds" or "Doctor Chaos fails." Instead, what his success or failure means gets constructed through play, as his Issues and the Persons of the heroes develop, and decisions about one's goal of play are thereby reached.

Trust me, it's easier than it sounds. All you have to do is say, "You know, if it weren't for that disturbing, occasional tendency toward genocide, Magneto really does have a point."

Bear in mind that on a given turn or round or whatever ("Episode" is my working name), the person playing Doctor Chaos' cards does not play him entirely - the people bringing in the superheroes get to play him expressing his Issues. Doctor Chaos is too big for any one person actually to play fully, at a given time.

These same people, of course, play the heroes they invent and bring in, and later, decide to re-introduce. No one owns any particular hero, and if no one re-introduces one, he or she disappears from the story. It is very likely that someone who played Doctor Chaos in a particular scene will enjoy one of the heroes someone else invented, and thus will abuse that hero greatly, looking forward to re-introduce that hero once Doctor Chaos has passed to someone else.

The one exceptional person, as you know from the above text, is the one playing the lesser villain. This is actually the only character in play who resembles a traditional "player-character," and interestingly enough, is the least likely to succeed in his own on-paper Plan. In other words, the most likely to undergo some sort of dramatic change, for better or worse.

Let me know what you think of those answers. I think most of your finishing questions are addressed in them.

Best,
Ron
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Doug Ruff
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« Reply #5 on: August 29, 2005, 07:58:25 AM »

Ron,

Here's a couple of questions for you:

- Is the Plan laid out at the beginning, or is it revealed in play (and how?)
- How rigid is each stage of the Plan? Under what circumstances can the Plan be modified?

The reason I'm interested in this area, is that it sounds like an important quality of Dr Chaos is that the players can identify with his goals and/or his methods. As he's created by the group, it may be that each player is attached to different parts of Dr Chaos' vision. I'm wondering if this could lead to struggle in play.

For example, we all agree that Dr Chaos is attempting to save the earth from ecological disaster, but this requires 90% of the population to die ("Plan: Kill several bilion people without destrying the ecosystem."). One player wants Dr Chaos to achieve this through stirring up political trouble amongst the most aggressive nations (let the vmost violent peole kill each other, the meek shall inherit.) Another player suggests spreading a virus keyed to certain genetic markers that renders a lare section of the population sterile. A third player advocates just killing people, but as painlessly as possible.

Is all of this negotiated between the players at the beginning and an agreement stuck to, or is it negotiable in play? If the Plan hinges on a gene-tailored virus, and I don't want this to happen, can I deliberately hose this option and force the group to choose a different approach?

Perhaps this should all be wrapped up into the wider question of: where do players compete with each other, if at all?

Hope this is a fruitful line of enquiry - I'm interested in the answers, but the main goal here is to help the game progress, so if answering me doesn't help, don't feel obliged to answer.
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Troy_Costisick
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« Reply #6 on: August 29, 2005, 08:17:47 AM »

Heya,

WOW! This sounds like a kickass game.  I totally dig how characters (and the proto-hero-characters) advance and the reward cycles.  I did go back and read your first thread, and it did answer a lot of my questions.  Thanks for reminding me.  Your answers to my other questions were great, and I feel I understand your game much better now.

I do have a couple more foundational questions to ask.  The first kinda goes along with Doug's. 

First: When it comes ot the Lesser Villain's Plan, who makes it?

Second: How do the superheroes interact with the Lesser Villain?

Third:  It seems to me, that the problem you're having right now is transitioning form Stage 2 to Stage 3 and from Stage 3 to Stage 4.  Is this correct, and if so can you give an example of how you hit a wall there?

Peace,

-Troy
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #7 on: August 29, 2005, 09:48:29 AM »

Doug,

Great questions! And yes, although some of them are explicit and easy to answer based on the current draft, it still helps a lot for me to see them framed by others.

Quote
- Is the Plan laid out at the beginning, or is it revealed in play (and how?)

Doctor Chaos's Plan is part of creating him as a character, before card play begins. It's composed of several Conditions, each very sketchily stated, in order. He will start at the top of the list and work his way down. Particular details of the Conditions get established by whoever's playing his cards at the time. One of the most interesting dials to spin at these points concerns just how horrific or destructive the Plan is, which is not established pre-play.

Quote
- How rigid is each stage of the Plan? Under what circumstances can the Plan be modified?

The overall success of his Plan relies on checking off Conditions (i.e. beating up all the opposition when he tries to fulfill that Condition), and its failure is highly nuanced. Typically, the heroes will merely delay that Condition, sending it to the bottom of the list. The best the heroes can do is literally destroy that Condition off the list, which has interesting consequences for the overall Win/Loss conditions. If destroyed Conditions outnumber existing ones (checked or unchecked, doesn't matter), then his Plan fails. I'm not explaining it fully, but suffice to say that the game approaches Endgame without a death spiral, as destroying Conditions (a) does make it likelier that he will lose but also (b) makes it easier for him to succeed (less Conditions to check off now). Destroying a Condition also unchecks all the other ones. I'm currently doping out what card-outcomes will best serve yet another outcome, which is adding a new Condition.

So what I'm getting at is that the Plan gets seriously adjusted through play as the heroes interfere, and in fact might end up looking rather simple compared to the original version, or it may not. Depends on what happens.

Quote
The reason I'm interested in this area, is that it sounds like an important quality of Dr Chaos is that the players can identify with his goals and/or his methods. As he's created by the group, it may be that each player is attached to different parts of Dr Chaos' vision. I'm wondering if this could lead to struggle in play.

You call it struggle. I call it characterization and dramatic internal conflict.

Quote
For example, we all agree that Dr Chaos is attempting to save the earth from ecological disaster, but this requires 90% of the population to die ("Plan: Kill several bilion people without destrying the ecosystem."). One player wants Dr Chaos to achieve this through stirring up political trouble amongst the most aggressive nations (let the vmost violent peole kill each other, the meek shall inherit.) Another player suggests spreading a virus keyed to certain genetic markers that renders a lare section of the population sterile. A third player advocates just killing people, but as painlessly as possible.

All of this actually needs a bit of filtering through something I hinted at above - that Conditions as initially defined are supposed to stay vague about the actual destruction and death-toll, to be arrived at later. Once we've established that point, then I think you can see that my answers above clarify this point - whoever is doing Doctor Chaos' cards at the beginning a given Episode is responsible for framing the scene and actions which, as far as that player are concerned, are the best way for him to fulfill the Condition at the top of the list.

And hey, if you would prefer that Doctor Chaos not be that kind of guy, then play your hero to the utmost to stop him, and then take control of him to do it right in a later Episode. You can easily write off that failed attempt as, you know, the day Doctor Chaos should have stuck to decaf. Or to use the X-Men II movie as an example, Magneto got a wee bit too enthusiastic when confronted with Cerebro, just, you know, sitting there with Prof X all drugged up and compliant. Good thing the heroes stopped him. Now that he's perhaps chastened a bit, or at least aware that the heroes will pull out all the stops if he tries to go this far again, how shall he pursue his goals more effectively?

Quote
Perhaps this should all be wrapped up into the wider question of: where do players compete with each other, if at all?

Depends on your definition of competition. See my list for Troy, above. "Goals" are highly personal in this game, despite the existence of a win-condition for Doctor Chaos. In many ways, this game is a lot like the Shab-al-Hiri Roach, in which competition for an actual win-condition may be hot and heavy, but the thematic judgments and powerful statements of the game are the real priority. We compete hard knowing that it's all funnelling in a thematic direction, which is best understood as a vector created by opposing or non-parallel input. Notions of "succeed by having the story go your way" need to be thrown right out of the window.

Troy,

Quote
First: When it comes ot the Lesser Villain's Plan, who makes it?

The player of the lesser villain. This person makes up the villain, his Plan, and stuff like his Hook (how Doctor Chaos can control him). These creations are not subject to the Cheese Rule, which is a line-item veto held by all participants regarding Doctor Chaos' coolness.

Quote
Second: How do the superheroes interact with the Lesser Villain?

Depends on what he's doing. If he's up to no good regarding his own Plan, one or more heroes might try to stop him (in which case they cannot oppose Doctor Chaos). If he's working with Doctor Chaos (willingly or unwillingly), then opposing one is opposing the other as well. If he's defying Doctor Chaos, then heroes and the lesser villain are working together. If he's trying to break Doctor Chaos' control, then a hero opposing Doctor Chaos might help him do so. All kinds of stuff. Do note that if no one opposes a villain (Doctor Chaos or the lesser one), he will indeed fulfill that Condition for his Plan.

Quote
Third: It seems to me, that the problem you're having right now is transitioning form Stage 2 to Stage 3 and from Stage 3 to Stage 4. Is this correct, and if so can you give an example of how you hit a wall there?

I haven't hit the wall (yet). What I've just managed to accomplish is whipping the basic card-play and win-conditions and transfer of ownership into the shape I want, based on playtesting ourselves into various bugs in Stage 2. For all I know, Stage 3 will now be a piece of cake, although it's more likely that we will now play wonderfully into it, then discover new bugs.

Best,
Ron

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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: August 29, 2005, 12:13:37 PM »

Whoops, forgot about these two! Sorry guys.

Graham, you wrote,

Quote
Is it an affectionate parody of superhero comics, or an attempt to recapture how exciting they were, or something else?

Definitely not a parody. It's much more along the lines of a very sleek way to enjoy one of the most powerful and central features of this sort of comic book. Which, as feature, has never before been central to a published role-playing game. Successful play itself (when we weren't discovering something terribly wrong with the mechanics) seems to me as if the people are saying, "Yeah, this is the way to get this right."

Quote
Will it go into deeply dark areas or will it be deliberately superficial? If I play this, will I be yelling at people around the table or sitting quietly trying to work out how to defeat their evil plans with the cards in my hand?

I'm not sure how these two questions are related, or if they are. Nor am I sure what you mean by "go into." Since the group defines Doctor Chaos, he is whatever they say. On the other hand, I think my text is very, very specific about what kind of comics characters I'm talking about. Historically, the ubervillain has always been quite edgy in terms of politics and large-scale ethics, and very non-edgy in terms of atrocities and shock value, for example. Doctor Doom expresses and invokes many Cold War fears; he does not rampage through the city leaving a trail of raped and slain prostitutes.

As for how people around the table treat one another, that's another question that I consider hard to answer. As I've seen it so far, people tend to interact with one another fairly normally, relative to most card games I enjoy. No yelling, lots of reinforcing dialogue, commentary on various outcomes, straightforward enjoyment of the imagined material.

It might help if I clarify that the card usage is not playable as a stand-alone card game. It's basically Gin Rummy stripped down to the point of near-complete stupidity, and strategizing in the long term is meaningless. People interact about the cards both before and after knocking (showing of hands), but not in the same sense that they do when playing a real card game.

Jason, you wrote,

Quote
I'd find Doctor Chaos much more accessible if the hero/villain roles were somehow mechanically reinforced, or the secret code was spelled out, or it supported a pretty broad definition of hero and villain. Could you set the dial way low to handle office politics, for example?

Jumpin' ahead there a little fast, aren't ya? "Accessible" isn't really an issue until you've at least seen a draft, I would think.

It's hard to imagine how the hero/villain roles could possible be any different in any role-playing context. Imagine if you were playing the monsters in a dungeon, living your lives and doing monster-ish things, and whenever you rolled against a "difficulty," say, when you were trying to hunt some dinner or raise of the ghost of your long-lost beloved, that difficulty is defined as some yahoo with a +1 sword trying to kill you. That's pretty damn different game mechanics.
As for the "secret code," I think my list about what Doctor Chaos is like, in the first thread (see link above), offers a pretty good start. It's part of a longer introduction which makes the target image - the ubervillain - very clear.

Finally, office politics aren't suitable for what these mechanics can do, or maybe it's the kind of thing I'd let someone else do with the rules without bothering my head about it. As I wrote in the other thread, the default scope for Doctor Chaos is "the world," but it's OK to scale it up or down to taste. I suppose it'd be OK to scale it all the way down there, but a lot of aspects of the game support Silver Age superhero comics, and I have a hard time seeing how they'd translate.

Best,
Ron
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Doug Ruff
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« Reply #9 on: August 29, 2005, 01:48:05 PM »

Ron,

Thanks for the detailed response: I'm going to focus on a specific part of it here.

Quote from: Ron Edwards
Doctor Chaos's Plan is part of creating him as a character, before card play begins. It's composed of several Conditions, each very sketchily stated, in order. He will start at the top of the list and work his way down. Particular details of the Conditions get established by whoever's playing his cards at the time. One of the most interesting dials to spin at these points concerns just how horrific or destructive the Plan is, which is not established pre-play.

Some follow-up questions, if I may:

- Although there is a "shopping list" of actions or events that Dr Chaos wants to happen, are the actual consequences (the outcome of the Plan, if successful) still 'up for grabs' during play? If so, how does this get fleshed out? How dooes the group decide exactly what happens if Dr Chaos succeeds?

- It sounds like Dr Chaos' Plan isn't particularly flexible. In other words, there is no Plan B - if a hero thwarts part of Dr Chaos' plan, there doesn't appear to be a contingency, Dr Chaos just moves on to a different part of the plan. This doesn't seem to fit with Dr Chais being a genius, why doesn't he have a fall back plan? (I suspect that I'm not appreciating the scale of the plans, or what the conditions actually look like. Any chance of fleshing out my previous 'save the world by killing 90% of the people' example with a few example Conditions?)
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Troy_Costisick
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« Reply #10 on: August 29, 2005, 01:59:33 PM »

Heya,

-Thanks for the great answers, Ron.  I feel that I have a decent handle on your game now.  Cool.  So, if I read your first post in this thread correctly, this is where you're wanting assistance from us:

Quote
I'm running into this with Doctor Chaos, because I'd really like to playtest the part that I don't have the best handle on, yet since it depends on earlier phases occurring through actual play, I tend not to get there quite yet. Or perhaps another way to put it is that I'd like to work on a later phase, but simply have to sharpen up earlier phases into their most refined form first...

I'd like to open this thread for open questions, especially for people who haven't seen anything at all. Your questions will help me figure out what sort of text I'm totally forgetting about that needs to be in the game.

-So are the main difficulties your facing in getting to the latter stages (3&4) a result of lacking time to get there in your playtests, loss of player interest, or not being able to transition from one to the next?

-Also, what sets apart the Lesser Villain from the superheroes?  All that I have seen so far is that he is played by a single person.  I realize he has a Plan, but in a way, so do the heroes- to stop Dr. Chaos.  So besides that, what other significant impacts does he have on play?

-Lastly, you talked about adding new Conditions.  That seemed a little less fleshed out, but one question I do have regarding that mechanic is if you have planned any built-in limits on adding new Conditions to the Plan?  It would seem to me that another way to stop Dr. Chaos is just to keep adding Condition after Condition and play would continue endlessly.  It's not a "play to win" strategy, it's a "play to tie."  Which would seem a type of railroading and very unfun way to play that game.

Peace,

-Troy
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #11 on: August 29, 2005, 04:00:56 PM »

Hi there,

Here goes!

Doug's questions:

Quote
- Although there is a "shopping list" of actions or events that Dr Chaos wants to happen, are the actual consequences (the outcome of the Plan, if successful) still 'up for grabs' during play? If so, how does this get fleshed out? How dooes the group decide exactly what happens if Dr Chaos succeeds?

Those consequences are narration-based. I'm not at all sure what the final, final outcomes of play will look like yet. I'm interested to see what comes through actual playtesting to that point, because it may be that over-controlling it, from a design perspective, is a bad idea. You'll notice that most of my games aren't oriented toward structuring endings very much, or rather, they do a good job of endings on a per-character basis rather than whole-story.

Quote
- It sounds like Dr Chaos' Plan isn't particularly flexible. In other words, there is no Plan B - if a hero thwarts part of Dr Chaos' plan, there doesn't appear to be a contingency, Dr Chaos just moves on to a different part of the plan. This doesn't seem to fit with Dr Chais being a genius, why doesn't he have a fall back plan? (I suspect that I'm not appreciating the scale of the plans, or what the conditions actually look like. Any chance of fleshing out my previous 'save the world by killing 90% of the people' example with a few example Conditions?

I'll give some examples in a bit; I'm a little rushed at the moment. Suffice to say that Doctor Chaos' Plan really is perfect. If it weren't for the heroes, it'd work. As I see it, when it gets modified in the face of their interference, then it becomes Plan B. Or if anyone wants it to become different (in terms of actual Conditions), then the rules I'd like to work out for adding new Conditions would be just right for that purpose. (Strategically, sometimes it benefits Doctor Chaos to add new Conditions and sometimes it doesn't.)

Troy's questions:

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-So are the main difficulties your facing in getting to the latter stages (3&4) a result of lacking time to get there in your playtests, loss of player interest, or not being able to transition from one to the next?

I think you're fixating on this "stage" business as a problem. It's not a problem; it's normal, especially since I only thought of the game less than a month ago. Clearly, when you have a game with strong internal development, you'll have to playtest it in a kind of "two steps forward, one step back" way until the earlier phases get well-honed. This is just part of the landscape of development.

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-Also, what sets apart the Lesser Villain from the superheroes? All that I have seen so far is that he is played by a single person. I realize he has a Plan, but in a way, so do the heroes- to stop Dr. Chaos. So besides that, what other significant impacts does he have on play?

Uh, the lesser villain's Plan is a big deal. The heroes do not have a Plan. In this game, the Plan is a very specific set of rules which govern many things about announcements and many things about outcomes. Not only do the heroes not have a Plan, they might not even individually exist past a scene apiece.

The significant impact you might be missing is that if Doctor Chaos controls the lesser villain, their two hands of cards operate together. Doctor Chaos already has a significant numerical edge over the heroes, in terms of the mechanics. They can (I hope) develop in time to give him a run for his money; otherwise he'll simply fulfill his conditions lickety-split. Controlling the lesser villain consistently is his way to counter their counter.

So the player of the lesser villain has a very important swing vote, in the mechanics of the game. Not a wholly deciding one, but an important one. You may note, as well, that this is a moral dilemma for that player more than a tactical one, because the lesser villain may succeed at his or her Plan, but all that is as dross if Doctor Chaos succeeds.

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-Lastly, you talked about adding new Conditions. That seemed a little less fleshed out, but one question I do have regarding that mechanic is if you have planned any built-in limits on adding new Conditions to the Plan? It would seem to me that another way to stop Dr. Chaos is just to keep adding Condition after Condition and play would continue endlessly. It's not a "play to win" strategy, it's a "play to tie." Which would seem a type of railroading and very unfun way to play that game.

As I mentioned above, sometimes adding a new Condition benefits Doctor Chaos. If the heroes have only one more Condition to destroy in order to defeat his Plan, then he may do well to add a new one, putting them at two-to-go instead of one-to-go. On the other hand, if he has plenty of existing Conditions and has checked off all but one, then the heroes may do well to add a new Condition, putting him at two-to-go. See? Adding Conditions is not just "delay of game."

Best,
Ron
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Troy_Costisick
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« Reply #12 on: August 30, 2005, 03:53:28 AM »

Heya,

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I think you're fixating on this "stage" business as a problem. It's not a problem; it's normal, especially since I only thought of the game less than a month ago. Clearly, when you have a game with strong internal development, you'll have to playtest it in a kind of "two steps forward, one step back" way until the earlier phases get well-honed. This is just part of the landscape of development.

-I think I just must have misunderstood your coments concerning the stages.  I was under the impression that transitioning between the stages was an area where you were having some design difficulties.  If that's not the case, awesome!  I'll move on to other topics.

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The significant impact you might be missing is that if Doctor Chaos controls the lesser villain...

-This is very interesting to me.  I really like how you work the relationship between Dr. Chaos and the LV, especially the Hook.  By the way, is the Hook created by the player of the LV or is it conceived during Dr. Chaos's generation to explain how he came to have an underling?

-Also, I'm curious to know if the Plan of Dr. Chaos can call for the death of the LV?  Say he's performing some ancient Aztec ritual, is the Doc aloud to kill the LV or even a superhero character without the consent of the person playing those characters?

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As I see it, when it gets modified in the face of their interference, then it becomes Plan B. Or if anyone wants it to become different (in terms of actual Conditions), then the rules I'd like to work out for adding new Conditions would be just right for that purpose. (Strategically, sometimes it benefits Doctor Chaos to add new Conditions and sometimes it doesn't.)

-This makes sense to me, and by allowing players to both destroy and add Conditions, I think you give them a good number of options for play.  I really like that facet of the game.  Is there a Final Condition that cannot be destroyed or avoided that is intended to be the final showdown between the villain and the heroes?  Or can Conditions keep being added and rearanged without regard to a chronological, step-by-step plan?  I guess what I'm asking is do Plans still make sense (have to make sense) once Conditions are added, subtracted, and moved to the bottom?

-Lastly, do both villains have to be defeated for the game to end?

-This looks like really good stuff, Ron.  I look forward to learning more about your game. :)

Peace,

-Troy
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #13 on: August 30, 2005, 04:19:54 AM »

Hello,

This is becoming quite helpful.

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-This is very interesting to me. I really like how you work the relationship between Dr. Chaos and the LV, especially the Hook. By the way, is the Hook created by the player of the LV or is it conceived during Dr. Chaos's generation to explain how he came to have an underling?

Everything about the lesser villain is created by that one player, including the Hook. Also, the lesser villain does not start under Doctor Chaos' control. Finally, it's hard to get across, especially to gamers, just how sketchy everything is starting. We don't start with a back-story for any character, and in fact, absolutely nothing, zilch, regarding heroes.

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-Also, I'm curious to know if the Plan of Dr. Chaos can call for the death of the LV? Say he's performing some ancient Aztec ritual, is the Doc aloud to kill the LV or even a superhero character without the consent of the person playing those characters?

The Plan is made prior to the lesser villain's creation, and it must concern in-game elements, not rules of the game. So no, it's not possible for a Condition to read something like "kill the lesser villain." Also, I think I'm perceiving a certain bloodthirstiness on your and others' parts ... again, Conditions are stated without reference to the death and destruction they may entail. The degree of death and destruction is established during play, not by the Conditions on paper. That would certainly apply to the heroes, who do not exist in game terms until well into play.

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Is there a Final Condition that cannot be destroyed or avoided that is intended to be the final showdown between the villain and the heroes? Or can Conditions keep being added and rearanged without regard to a chronological, step-by-step plan? I guess what I'm asking is do Plans still make sense (have to make sense) once Conditions are added, subtracted, and moved to the bottom?

You do read superhero comics, don't you? Conditions are quite large, grandiose things, with their order primarily determined by what the artist and writer feel like depicting first. You don't have to concern yourself with preserving their actual logistic order. Remember, Doctor Chaos is smarter than we are. If the Plan seems kind of retrofitted into some kind of humpbacked version of itself, don't sweat it - it'll still work. When his deck passes into your hands, there'll be a Condition at the top of the list, and all you have to do is try to fulfill it.

"Fools! You have only delayed the moment of my triumph!"

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Lastly, do both villains have to be defeated for the game to end?

Nope. The game is called Doctor Chaos, not Doctor Chaos and His Weird Snivelling Sidekick. The question that frames play entirely is whether his Plan succeeds, and it well might, so look out. On the other hand, ethically, the two villains represent very strong and fun questions, slightly different for each.

During play, the lesser villain's Plan is up for grabs. It may succeed (if the lesser villain is very cunning and very lucky), in which case the lesser villain may retire or form a new Plan. It will most likely fail entirely (if the heroes stop it, just as they would for Doctor Chaos' Plan, only it's easier) or get put by the wayside as the lesser villain is either firmly clamped under Doctor Chaos' thumb or perhaps decides that opposing Doctor Chaos is a better option. After all, as I wrote above, Snake-Man might achieve his goal of controlling the city's crime families ... but what good is that when Doctor Chaos restructures the entire New World Order?

Best,
Ron
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Troy_Costisick
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« Reply #14 on: August 30, 2005, 05:26:31 AM »

Heya,

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Everything about the lesser villain is created by that one player, including the Hook. Also, the lesser villain does not start under Doctor Chaos' control. Finally, it's hard to get across, especially to gamers, just how sketchy everything is starting. We don't start with a back-story for any character, and in fact, absolutely nothing, zilch, regarding heroes.

-And that is what I absolutely LOVE about this game!  It's pure imagination on the part of the players.  They get to make up so much on the spot.  They have to be light on their feet in order to accomplish anyhting. It's almost like improv for RPGs.

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The Plan is made prior to the lesser villain's creation, and it must concern in-game elements, not rules of the game. So no, it's not possible for a Condition to read something like "kill the lesser villain." Also, I think I'm perceiving a certain bloodthirstiness on your and others' parts ... again, Conditions are stated without reference to the death and destruction they may entail

-So the Plan could entail an "Ancient Aztec Ritual" but then it would be up to the players to decide it that means "Use an ancient recipe to make a drink out of chocolate and coffee" or "Sacrifice a noble hero on the Altar of Doom", right?

-Speaking of this sort of thing, are Superhero powers governed more by the cards or by player imagination?  If by player imagination, are there any constraints?  I could see a problem arising (perhaps) if I make a hero named Flashback that has time travel capabilites.  Something like that might cause some logistical problems, I might think.  Or would that just add to the excitement of the game?

-Aw shoot, I'll just ask the same question about Dr. Chaos.  Are his powers/abilities more a result of the cards or a result of the players' input?

-I do want to make sure I have the order of starting play straitened out in my head.  It goes something like this: 1) Group creates Dr. Chaos and his Plan, 2) Individual creates Lesser Villain and his Plan, 3) Decks are assigned and play begins.  Is that close?

-Lastly, how are the players assigned their duties?  How is the player of the Lesser Villain decided?  Is it by consent or do they draw? Who gets Dr. Chaos first?  Is there an advantage to that?

I really like what I'm reading, Ron.  I'm having fun already just hearing about that game.

Peace,

-Troy
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