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Author Topic: [Barbaren] Today, I am a man!  (Read 10244 times)
Ron Edwards
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« on: August 31, 2005, 07:46:06 AM »

Hello,

At one of the dinner get-togethers during the first couple of days at GeCon, we engaged in a great deal of feminist theorizing regarding Barbaren. Several people had independently arrived at the idea that it's very much the male-in-female-story, based on the concepts presented in Sex & Sorcery. We were all engorged with desire to play it and find out whether it worked as a game.

We got the chance on the second evening of Embassy Suites games. It was a big crowd: Tom (Bluegargantua), Jasper, Ben, me, Julie, Jared, and and Emily, with a couple others at the table. I might have missed a player or two, so speak up if so. Julie began as GM, but Ben shifted out of player-mode and became co-GM part way through.

The game states very rightly that a given scenario only needs to begin with some shared context: raiding a rival clan, fertility rites, that sort of thing. Ha! We all picked fertility rites unanimously, in a barbarous fashion, with shouts and raised fists. Now, the consequences of this choice were absolutely huge. It means that the scenario is ultimately about fucking, without any obvious opportunity for fighting to power up for it, so we had to make up and instigate violent personal conflicts - sort of a big barbarian soap opera. Contrast this context, for example, with a fight-oriented scenario, say a raid on a neighboring town, in which we'd fuck in order to power up for fighting.

I just found my character notes/sheet, which I'd scan and post if I knew how. I sketched my character, Oskar. I'm not much of a cartoonist, but this one worked well. It's composed only of his face, which I drew as a fairly chinless white-trash guy with a definite mullet, and his penis & associated parts, placed anatomically correctly relative to the face, hangin' there. Otherwise, all white space. It was about the time that I was adding the little lines that indicated how bristly Oskar's scrotum was that Jasper threatened to claw out his own eyes if I continued. (I may be paraphrasing that interaction; I do remember cries of horror from somewhere nearby.)

Oskar started with Combat 24, Momentum 2, Elegance 4, and Aggression 4; Attractiveness 21, Charm 0, Touch 4, and Horny 4. He has Sneaking! and Mocking, and is Vengeful and Funny. His sword is "Dragontooth." His three relationships are his three wives. He'd like to steal the crown of the Spider God, which ended up having nothing at all to do with play. I have not listed his primary attributes for a reason ...

First things first: Frank, the primary attribute scores are useless crust and nothing but a bad habit. The important scores during play are the four Fighting ones (Combat, Moment, Elegance, Aggression), and the four Wooing ones (Attractiveness, Charm, Touch, Horny). All those Strength, Agility, etc traditional scores should be completely abandoned. Never mind "basic vs. derived" concept in numerical character design. Just find a way to arrive directly at the eight scores that matter (randomized, point-spending, whatever, I don't care) at the correct ranges.

So! What happened? It began with Tom's character going to beat up Jasper's character at the behest of the tribal chief. In the fullness of time, my character decided that  Tom's needed to be killed and went after him. My "wife story" didn't get very developed until Jared stepped in (about which more later). Then followed a whole lotta inconsequential bushwhacking, in which Tom's character seemed somehow able to keep succeeding by dodging and running away. I was sort of annoyed that the rules didn't whack him better for that. I'm not sure that we were playing right, actually. Ben and I were going over the rules afterward and we're now given to understand that wussing out indefinitely like Tom did wouldn't be possible.

Bluntly, some folks just didn't get it, at least not at the emotional or motivational level which is necessary for play. Aside from Tom, I don't think Ben cottoned to the whole idea at all (at the level I'm speaking of) and his character just blundered around until he abandoned him to co-GM with Julie. Ben, do not get all defensive about this; I may be entirely wrong and you can know this without going into conniptions or trying to convince the whole damn Forge about it. Emily, Jasper, Jared, and I ended up being the "real" players whose characters were involved in any kind of story.

Sitting with us were Brian Pope, Andrew Clark, and Jennifer Long from Breakfast of Demons (more on these folks in a later thread; besides, you need to see the movie!). Jasper had fetched them from the hall and seduced their tender, creative minds. About a half hour into play, Brian muttered, "This is really different ... the GM isn't giving you some task to do! It's not like you're working together on anything." Jasper and I smiled at him carnivorously. Because the four players above were indeed ... just not how he ... well, read on.

Back to the story. Jasper and I decide to go after the old chief and kill him for causing all this trouble, which was the only way I could figure out how to get my character back into the scenario instead of chasing Mr. Scaredy-Pants all over the place. We spend the rest of the session fighting and killing him in a fine spray of rules and blood. Meanwhile, at the other end of the table, we had Emily's character and Jared's character all wrapped up in a complicated situation regarding this dancer, Sybil, that Jared's character is obsessed with. He'd already messed up the fertility rites by drugging my character's wife, who was supposed to star in them (and gave me a bit to do with that part, too). Now, Emily's character decided that the rites needed a whole new revision, basically a religious Reformation, to be spearheaded (Beavis & Butthead laugh-noises) by himself.

Jared always plays the same! At least whenever we play together. His character skulks around through most of the session being kind of weird, then he finds a place in the climactic moments to do something offbeat, crazy, and dramatic. It certainly matches the "sudden transformation" trope of many good movies, but it's kind of a structuralist way to play, or it seems so when you've played next to it a few times.

So, recently during a phone conversation, I brought this up to him and he instantly retorted that I am exactly the same way except that I always do the freaky thing early in the game. "Mr. Go Get Coffee, Turn Into a Werewolf and Kill Someone, then Go Get Coffee!" I believe was the phrase he used, but I have no idea what he's on about.

Anyway, we were all wrapped up in Emily's character's desire to revise the fertility rites, remember? This was a fun chance to see the seduction rules in action, which the other characters really hadn't had much opportunity to do. So Emily's character is having sex with three women on the disheveled altar, in front of the whole tribe, well, with Sybil most successfully, and her character is standing there with Sybil bent over in front of him, holding onto her hips for dear life, him all stallion-ish and grunting and her presumably moaning. So Jared's character goes even more bonkers with jealousy, leaps into the fray with his mighty sword, and beheads her.

Cries of "eww!" from all around the table. Or maybe that was just me and others were cheering or something, I dunno.

Jasper's character and mine stop hacking up the chieftain's corpse and we look at the carnage over at the other end of the hall, then at one another. He has his character say, "I need a drink," and mine says, "That puts me right off religion." Which more or less ended the session successfully, I think.

Some follow-up thoughts included the importance of the scenario context, as I mentioned above, and a little bit of a reward system debate. How do (a) fucking to fight and (b) fighting to fuck really interrelate during play? My impression is that it's not a perfect mirror, but Ben got deeper into the rules than I did and he says it is. My take, though, is that the fucking is based on approval by the woman and "lifts" the character into a more privileged situation in the in-game scenario interactions, whereas fighting is based on destroying an opponent and has a detractive effect on the richness of the next scene, by comparison anyway. Or wait, maybe I'm stating that badly ... I think the key issue for me was that losing a fight could destroy a character, whereas loosing a woo could not.

More play is called for, especially using different scenario contexts, to examine this issue further. I need to draw little circles and arrows like I do for reward systems in general.

Overall, since the play-situation was a little chaotic and since we ended up with two almost-separate storylines and at least a couple of disconnected players, I'm interested to see what others' impressions were. I am very inclined to agree with our pre-play theorizing, at this point, and the whole of play (fucking is hugely important, rape is impossible) seemed tremendously full of potential. I'd really like to see the game developed into publishable form.

Best,
Ron
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Ben Lehman
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« Reply #1 on: August 31, 2005, 08:06:00 AM »

After all the fights, I decided to start a wooing scene, but sadly Big Hans was not really adept at the whole wooing process and it got very boring quickly.  Since I was isolated from the rest of the group, and people weren't interested in my character, and I was trying to sort out the rules from the document, it seemed like a great time to fade into the background.

I was really really ready for Jasper to fight me (I had slept with his unrequited love) or Jared (I tried to pick a fight with him, and failed), but the session ended too early.  Ah, well...

The reason why I don't think that fighting is much different from wooing, in terms that you are discussing (in strict numerical terms, it is nearly identical), is that it is reasonably easy to lose a fight, but nearly impossible to die without especially trying to do so, and even then it relies on a good deal of luck.  So the chances of taking someone out of the game with a fighting scene are next to nil.  Likewise, if you get a stellar success in wooing, it means that the woman is "totally yours" and you never have to woo her again, which I would argue effectively takes her out of play as a character.

Tom didn't realize this, I think, hence the running.  Further, the fact that we played the Horny rules wrong (Tom should have been at about 25-30 Horny after all those fights) meant that he didn't have a pointer to go and get some tail, which was sad.

There is (to my recollection, I don't have the rules in front of me), a slight asymmetry between wooing and fighting -- sex or "rest" can refresh your Fighting, but only rest (not fighting) can refresh your Attractiveness.  Which means that the most efficient cycle looks like:

Fight - Sex - Fight - Rest

Which I find pretty awesome.  I hadn't realized this when I talked with you about the game earlier.

My verdict: An unpolished gem.  I'm visiting Frank in Hamburg tomorrow, so I'll be giving him a full comment summary in person.

yrs--
--Ben
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: August 31, 2005, 08:08:41 AM »

Ah! That makes a lot of sense, Ben. I haven't read the game since we played, so will cruise to the text and see.

Bust Frank's balls about those primary attributes, though! Feh!

Best,
Ron
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Larry L.
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« Reply #3 on: August 31, 2005, 09:11:00 AM »

Trollbabe and Barbaren act like they hate each other, but everyone knows they're really in love.

If Frank is really hung up on the primary stats for parody value or something, I suppose he could put the blanks on the character sheet and make them 100% useless. "Write some number in here. Ignore them."

Quote from: Ron Edwards
and mine says, "That puts me right off religion."

Now that's a punchline!
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Emily Care
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« Reply #4 on: August 31, 2005, 09:23:16 AM »

Quote from: Ron
Emily, Jasper, Jared, and I ended up being the "real" players whose characters were involved in any kind of story.

We happened to be the ones who saw some openings to insert our characters into the plot and to draw each other in. The game would be more fun if this was incorporated directly into the rules, rather than leaving it up to the inspiration of the players. I had an experience being on the "what do I do now?" side of the fence playing Sweet Dreams earlier in the weekend, so I'm very sympathetic to it.  During character creation you make a goal for your barbarian.  If they were explicitly connected to the other players, in conflicting ways, you'd have ready made plot & would probably make it easier for everyone to be able to do what some of us figured out how to do in this game: provide meaningful opposition for one another.

Interestingly, Star's post points at the same desire for systemic interconnection of the characters in Bacchanal.  It looks like in both games we want the rules to bring the characters into a collision course, and not leave it up to hope & chance on making this true.

best,
Em
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Koti ei ole koti ilman saunaa.

Black & Green Games
Frank T
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« Reply #5 on: August 31, 2005, 01:43:36 PM »

Ha, there it is, finally! You don’t know how anticipation tortured me. Just take a second to savor this: A guy from Germany drafts an RPG in German and posts an English write-up of it to an American internet forum. The game is tested by some of America’s hottest Indie Game designers, at what happens to be the world’s largest RPG convention. The feedback they give (in English) on said forum goes straight back into the German design. Man, we are a worldwide community, is what we are! Ever the more true since, not 24 hours hence, I will be having a beer with Ben Lehman, face to face, and offer him a bed for the night. This is cool beyond belief.

That beeing said, thanks all of you for taking the time and effort to test my game and write about it. And special thanks to Julie for making this possible. I do realize that the games is still quite raw. Interestingly, my own playtests in the meantime have produced quite different results from yours, and indicated different changes to the rules. I shall have to go back to the garage for some serious handwork. So many things to consider here, where to start?

So, the attributes. That issue has been raised by Nicolas in the very early design discussions on GroFaFo. I actually put some consideration in including them. They have been used quite extensively in my own playtests. I think, therefore, that this is worth a seperate thread in which I explain what the attributes were used for, and you tell me how I could have solved that without attributes. I have some ideas about that myself, but they are as yet flawed.

As a side note, it’s funny with what sort of names people come up for their Barbarians. Up to now, nobody in any playtest asked for example names, ever. They all have clear ideas about what a Barbarian name should sound like. My current favorites are Xev and Kronk. And Ron, please keep that drawing. I want it for my homepage.


On the part of being whacked for stealing away: You can steal away if you’ve got intitiative, or that’s the rule as it now stands. I might consider punishing the player by substracting Horny, but then again, I’ve been there and changed it for a reason: Winning or losing a fight depends on luck just as much as guts and tactiscs. In the early playtests, characters were punished in terms of Horny for losing fights. That lead to a gap opening very quickly between the stats of lucky player’s characters and the stats of unlucky player’s characters. So I decided to focus more on the attempt and less on the outcome. I could, however, punish avoiding a fight without need, or something of the like.

I do not know where the notion comes from that fights cannot (or rarely) end deadly. It’s true that a “killed” result on an attack is most unlikely, at least against a PC. But, as I state in my English write-up, refering to what happens at zero Combat:

Quote
To be clear: the winner can, and probably will, kill the vanquished.

There is an imballance between fighting and wooing on that account. The risk in fighting is higher. Do you think that’s a problem? Does the possibility of character death as consequence of a lost fight serve the game, or hinder it?

There are other differences between wooing and fighting, too, especially with multiple “opponents”. That comes down to verisimilitude, mostly. My imagination just protests if, say, two Barbarians gang up on a woman and that makes her easier prey. I don’t think that’s an appropriate result. (Funny to use the word "appropriate" in relation with this game.)

Quote
There is (to my recollection, I don't have the rules in front of me), a slight asymmetry between wooing and fighting -- sex or "rest" can refresh your Fighting, but only rest (not fighting) can refresh your Attractiveness.  Which means that the most efficient cycle looks like:

Fight - Sex - Fight - Rest

Which I find pretty awesome.  I hadn't realized this when I talked with you about the game earlier.

Well, I do realize that my English write-up was very brief and it was probably hard to get the actual rules out of it, even more so since they still need a big deal of smoothing out. The rules for refreshing Combat and Attractiveness are:

Combat: You got one Combat score that counts against everyone. Refresh immediately after each fight, except for Combat score lost due to wounds – those need to heal first. Improve your basic Combat score (and along with it, your actual score) through spending Aggressiveness. Gain Aggressiveness through wooing.

Attractiveness: You keep track of seperate Attractiveness scores per woman. Do not refresh if the wooing is interrupted, just pick it up where you left. If you woo a new woman, start with your basic score again. (That’s the second major difference between fighting and wooing, also owed to verisimilitude.) Improve your Attractiveness score through spending Horny. Gain Horny through fighting.

Ben, you are refering to the refreshment of Momentum and Elegance on the one hand and Charme and Touch on the other. That part is one of the least considered in the design. It was something I just made up because I liked the line: Momentum is regained through a night of rest (standard RPG sentence). However, a night of drinking or fucking will do even better (laugh now).


Last not least, on the connection between PCs. I do see the need for that. Interestingly, you went immediately for player vs. player adversity, whereas my other playtesters were more inclined to join forces against some adversity provided by the GM. Maybe that’s just the difference between Forgites like yourselves and “classic” gamers.

My take up to now was to establish that all PCs are brothers, either by blood or by oath. That doesn’t mean they cannot, eventually, turn on each other, but it serves as a first connection. Also, players are encouraged (but not required) to intertwine their characters’ relationships. Did you feel three relationships were too much for a one-shot? It has been suggested to reduce it to one relationship, with a rating of three, for such purpose.

Did you use the rule for “central person”? Right now, my “adventure formula” works like this: One participant picks “frame”. All players pick “central person” for their character. GM works these together and provides adversity for the purpose of both fighting and wooing.

But now I read this paragraph:

Quote
About a half hour into play, Brian muttered, "This is really different ... the GM isn't giving you some task to do! It's not like you're working together on anything." Jasper and I smiled at him carnivorously.

This is both a potential merit and flaw of BARBAREN!: different people interpret the premise and tone of the game very differently. Varieties range from pure slapstick to Robert E. Howard style stories, from near-calssic “adventuring” to the happy “butcher one another” thing you lot pulled off.

As a designer, I’m somewhat at a loss as to how much of my own interpretation to insert, or how much to leave up to the players. Mechanically enforcing a player vs. player adversity, for example, would contradict most of the playtests that have been run up to now.


So far. Thanks again for the playtest, and I hope to hear from the other players and my most favorite lovely GM, Julie!

Hail,
Frank
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ejh
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #6 on: August 31, 2005, 06:38:34 PM »

Question for the players.

In Bacchanal's "Succeed the Proscenium" text, we find:

Quote
· On a related note, recognize that over-reliance on pornography and graphic violence in your scenes is a way of defending against exposure and vulnerability.
http://www.1km1kt.net/forum/ftopic469.html

I am curious about the relationship between this element of Bacchanal play and BARBAREN! play in general.

It sounds a lot as if the whole point of BARBAREN! play is to play within the mode (graphic violence and pornography completely over the top, thereby insulating one from exposure and vulnerability related to it) which is here contraindicated for Bacchanal play.

Does that sound accurate, O Barbaren?  Why or why not?  Discuss. ;)
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bluegargantua
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« Reply #7 on: September 01, 2005, 07:08:43 AM »

The reason why I don't think that fighting is much different from wooing, in terms that you are discussing (in strict numerical terms, it is nearly identical), is that it is reasonably easy to lose a fight, but nearly impossible to die without especially trying to do so, and even then it relies on a good deal of luck.  So the chances of taking someone out of the game with a fighting scene are next to nil.  Likewise, if you get a stellar success in wooing, it means that the woman is "totally yours" and you never have to woo her again, which I would argue effectively takes her out of play as a character.

Tom didn't realize this, I think, hence the running.  Further, the fact that we played the Horny rules wrong (Tom should have been at about 25-30 Horny after all those fights) meant that he didn't have a pointer to go and get some tail, which was sad.

  WHAT!?!?

  I get Horny for losing fights?

  Awww man!

  Well, it was a playtest and I was first out of the chute so I'm not terribly upset about how the game went.  As soon as I got into the fight with Jasper, I realized that fighting another PC is pretty weak.  From the way we were playing it, the defender actually got more dice than the attacker, so it was just that much harder to get over on someone.  Once the dogpile started and I realized I'd be splitting my dice, the only reasonable thing to do seemed to be to pull out.  I wasn't clear about what hitting 0 on the combat score actually meant.  And yeah, if I'd known that I was getting Horny out of the deal, then I probably wouldn't have cared so much.

  For me, the saddest part was that I didn't have a chance to do my short soliloquy about my massive greatsword Jurgens -- forged from the bones of a frost giant and quenched in the tears of the frost giant's daughter.

  Probably the best part was during character creation where about half of us immediately came up with three-letter acronyms for each of the stats (and, without consultation, they were almost always the same acronyms).  These people also generally listened to how various secondary stats were calculated and just wrote down the number.  Other people had to hear the process a couple of times and still had this look on their face of "what arcane madness is this?".  I believe an abacus may have been employed.  It was a telling display of each players RPG "roots" -- and certainly testament to the roots of BARBAREN.

  Anyway, my basic playtest suggestions (bearing in mind that we may not have been playing it correctly and I learned by doing...):

  1.)  In a game about Barbarians, going on the attack should always be a better option.  Defenders always seemed to have just enough extra dice to squeak away.

  2.)  If PC vs PC play is supposed to feature prominently, then maybe it should be mano-a-mano because the gang-up rules will get you thrown down fast and it's not quite the gutsy he-man combat I envision.  Perhaps a replay may show how pool refreshment doesn't actually make ganging up on people a game-wrecker.

  3.)  The big one.  I'm sitting on a stack of Aggression or Horny or whatever.  Please, please let me spend it.  If my Combat or Wooing is falling through the cracks, let me have more than one bonus die, let me vent my agression/horniness to the fullest.  In fact, I might suggest that you could tweak the rules so that the Defender gets more base dice than the Aggressor, but the Aggressor has no limit (or a very high limit) on Aggresion/Horny (Defender still limited to 1).  Since the Aggressor starts off with a smaller pool than the Defender, they're encouraged to spend a lot more AGG/HNY to win.  Spending more means the pools empty out faster and they have to refresh them.  More refreshes means the Fight-Fuck-Fight-Rest cycle speeds up and that means more chest-thumping fun for everybody.

  Once I saw the whole Fight-Fuck-Fight cycle I realized that this is what really drives the game forward.  So make it as easy as possible for people to churn that cycle as fast as they can.

  Anyway, despite my flight into cowardice, I had a good time and it was very nice actually playing a game with the many Forge-ites I'd never met in person before.

later
Tom
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The Three Stooges ran better black ops.

Don't laugh, Larry would strike unseen from the shadows and Curly...well, Curly once toppled a dictatorship with the key from a Sardine tin.
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