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Author Topic: [Space Rat] Ronnies feedback  (Read 4867 times)
Ron Edwards
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« on: October 02, 2005, 06:40:21 PM »

Hello,

Yaaaayy! This was another of the very few games which, upon reading, I sat right up and said "Winner, winner!" It was also the only Ronnies entry which had me scrambling to generate a player-character before I was done reading the text.

I'm talking about Nathan Russell's Space Rat: The Adventures of Jack Cosmos. Dude. This game is fucking hilarious, the system is tremendously elegant, and on top of that, it's damn near playable right outta the box.

All right, let's talk about that system. It looks standard, right? You have a buncha score values down the left-hand side, a buncha difficulties across the top, and you roll 2d6 hoping to get on the good side of a classic diagonal chart. I was already groaning, expecting a bevy of skills and advantages that added bonuses to rolls in a niche-y fashion. But then! It turns out that skills only modify how you go into the chart, not how you use it, which makes play much, much simpler.

Except that this explanation isn't simple or clear. Let me start over. See, if you have skills and specialties and gear, you get "off the diagonal" on that chart, to the rightward/upward side, and in a way which doesn't permit fixing/breaking the system. You get better chances of succeeding for a fair price. So far so good; that beats 99% of the traditional game design out there right away.

The trouble is, in this game, that just puts you in the same tier as the other Femme Babes, and damn them, Jack might end up liking them better than you! So now we look at the cool-ass reward system, which is composed of Luck and Attention Stars. Attention Stars basically just improve your position relative to the score/difficulty diagonal, that's easy. Luck, on the other hand, becomes the rivalry-mechanic - either beating the difficulty table outright, or screwing with another Femme Babe's chances when she's really strategized her way into an Attention-Star-getting situation.

It's faaaaantastic. The reward system tweaks the two clear "ends" of the resolution system, and it's tied straight into the two key words as well as into the system in a totally easy-to-use way. The metagame mechanic, the reward, and the resources are all the same thing (Attention Stars), and the rivalry-mechanic turns it into more than just do, acquire, and spend, to do again. This is role-playing design.

I have a few suggestions.

1. (Easy one) I suggest that player-consensus is required for getting a coolness bonus. That's a tough call - you gotta wow the competition themselves in order to get the bonus. Does it seem unlikely to you, in that people would essentially be going against their own advantage? Lots of play-experience in other systems suggests otherwise to me. Trust me; try it.

2. This one's really important; it constitutes my only serious criticism of the game, and it's central. Jack needs to be rewritten. He may not even be well-suited to be run as a character at all. If he is, then his Mind ought to be Abysmal, by the way ...

Either way, though, the game text must explain how how he causes game-scenarios to occur, and how that prompts the specific prep and the specific situations that begin a session of play. Nathan, I strongly suspect that you would do this without even thinking about it, and would even wonder how any sane person could get confused about it. That's because explaining what's automatic and obvious to you is the single most difficult element of designing and publishing an RPG, especially a good one.

Clearly Jack's peccadilloes are easy to come up with: getting captured, passing the buck, getting lost, getting arrested, trying out an interesting new space-herb, and so on. But how are they established, how are adventures begun, what happens? When my players clutch their character sheets and look at me expectantly for the very first time, what do I say?

Now, I have a few guesses and (I hope) inspirations. But that doesn't excuse the fact that this information must be present in the game text.

3. A related point: "going out to dinner with Jack" is totally lame as the reward for the Attention Star victor of the moment. Dude - you gotta give something more, and it's gotta tie right into scenario prep. My call is to have that character begin the next scenario arm-in-arm with Jack, embroiled in whatever situation he's in. See? She's on the ground floor of the scenario! Not only that, if Jack gets captured or lost or decides to catch a porno matinee, she's the one on the ground, and the others gotta scramble! Ha! Take that!

4. I don't think I need to clarify to anyone who's read the rules that you have an amazing hand at producing Cosmos Jack book prose. Here's what I suggest as well: that a major part of play focus on referencing old works and creating excerpts for (whoops, I mean "from") new ones. And that ties into the real point of play - whether your Femme Babe is just a walk-on in the present novel, or whether she's the real hero! We know from your excerpts and game text that the Femme Babes are the heroes. The question is whether mine is, in play, and why.

Heh-hehhhh ... sex-positivism satirical feminism raises its wickedly-grinning, hooded head ... "Can a deluded bimbo be a heroic woman of consequence?" Ah, Premise, I love it when you tease me like that.

If the Ronnies had a first place, this game would be it for September.

Best,
Ron

P.S. You gotta love the Hero Machine. One of the finest time-sinks on the internet.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: October 02, 2005, 07:21:04 PM »

Oh yeah!

Nathan, if you're reading this, then email me fast at sorcerer@sorcerer-rpg.com. I don't have contact info for you, and that means no money, if you don't.
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tygertyger
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Ever unscrewing the inscrutible


« Reply #2 on: October 03, 2005, 09:45:35 PM »

Aaaaaah, yesss... of all the other entries, this is the one that made me say, "uh, oh" when I thought there would only be one winner.  I really, really liked this game -- it was one of only two that I would seriously consider playing (that's more a comment on my taste than on workmanship, though).  Mad props to you, Nathan.
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Currently working on: Alien Angels, Dreamguards, Immaculate
Joe J Prince
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Putting the fun into dysfunction!


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« Reply #3 on: October 04, 2005, 07:24:09 AM »

Yeah, Space Rat is great.

I'd say its the best offering from this first Ronnies contest.
Although I like Cutthroat and Black Widows a lot too.

I'm amazed that Nathan knocked it out in a day, much kudos!

Incidentally, Jack Cosmos is a perfect example of a Munch-Mausen, complete with tales of femme babe conquests!

I need to get the hero machine, it looks like a lot of fun...
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Larry L.
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aka Miskatonic


« Reply #4 on: October 04, 2005, 07:57:41 AM »

Finally, an excuse to generate piles of action babes with Heromachine without guilt.

I loooove the bimbo-centric premise. I'm amazed that no game has touched this before.

From the current illustration, I totally do not buy into Jack's sex appeal. I am sure a more convincing depiction of a rat-man lothario could be found, but "furries" frightens me and I shall delve not into this.

I am impressed that the page layout is actually set up for duplex printing. I hate it when PDFs don't consider that I might actually produce a hard copy.
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Graham W
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« Reply #5 on: October 04, 2005, 11:26:26 AM »

Jack Cosmos is teh roxxor.

It's a beautiful game. I love the backbiting play. My favourite game, apart from indie games of course, is Paranoia, and this reminds me of that.

My one worry is that it wouldn't hold up for more than a few sessions. It looks like tremendous fun, but there's not much to make me want to play the same character for a campaign. Is there any room for overarching plots that span several games? Something like that?

Graham
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: October 04, 2005, 12:23:19 PM »

Well see, that's what I'm after.

If it turns out that the various adventures can seen as excerpts from one or more "books," then the questions about (a) who the leading lady really is and (b) what kind of a hero is she, can emerge.

The neat thing is that the answers to (a) and (b) are not necessarily answered simply by who gets the most Attention Stars. So yeah, they are long-term play based answers.

Best,
Ron
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Peril Planet
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« Reply #7 on: October 05, 2005, 08:03:18 PM »

Man!  Don't I feel like the cat that just swallowed the canary.  Or the Femme Babe that just won Jack's heart (for the moment...).  Thanks for the positive feedback people.  I really didn't expect any kind of honorable mention, let alone be a winner.  I just set out to create a game that I would want to play - one I knew my gaming buddies might get a laugh out of.  And wasn't I surprised to find this thread!  My wife is expecting our second child in the next couple of weeks, so I've been a bit (read - A LOT) distracted - I couldn't even find the thread with the Ronnie feedback!

Anyways, my thoughts (and maybe answers) on Space Rat.

1. (Easy one) I suggest that player-consensus is required for getting a coolness bonus. That's a tough call - you gotta wow the competition themselves in order to get the bonus. Does it seem unlikely to you, in that people would essentially be going against their own advantage? Lots of play-experience in other systems suggests otherwise to me. Trust me; try it.

As I was writing, I kinda imagined that the "cool" incidents would identify themselves - you know, the incidents when everyone starts laughing or shouting or joking about a character's amazing (or tragic) action / escape / etcetera.  I usually find one or two such incidents crop up in the games I run and no-body would deny that the incident was entertaining enough to be rewarded in some manner.

2. This one's really important; it constitutes my only serious criticism of the game, and it's central. Jack needs to be rewritten. He may not even be well-suited to be run as a character at all. If he is, then his Mind ought to be Abysmal, by the way ...

Either way, though, the game text must explain how how he causes game-scenarios to occur, and how that prompts the specific prep and the specific situations that begin a session of play. Nathan, I strongly suspect that you would do this without even thinking about it, and would even wonder how any sane person could get confused about it. That's because explaining what's automatic and obvious to you is the single most difficult element of designing and publishing an RPG, especially a good one.

Clearly Jack's peccadilloes are easy to come up with: getting captured, passing the buck, getting lost, getting arrested, trying out an interesting new space-herb, and so on. But how are they established, how are adventures begun, what happens? When my players clutch their character sheets and look at me expectantly for the very first time, what do I say?

Now, I have a few guesses and (I hope) inspirations. But that doesn't excuse the fact that this information must be present in the game text.

Jack Cosmos, the Rat himself.  Mind of "Excellent"?  What was I thinking?  I blame hour 23 for that.  As I was writing, I imagined him a cross between James Bond and Zapp Brannigan (the Captain Kirk rip-off from Futurama).  Maybe a bit of Rowen Atkinson's characters from the old "Black Adder" television shows and his "Johnny English" film.  As for the pic - there is only so much you can do with Hero Machine!  (perhaps you can find a picture from the short-lived television show from 1980's, where Dolph Lundgren, Mark Hamil and Pee Wee Herman all played Jack at various stages during the series...)

And Jack is NEVER meant to be played.  I suppose.  He's a plot device.  His stats were included to give all those long-time fans of the novels and TV show a glimpse of what the space rat might be like in the flesh!

Now I have a confession - while writing, I did not give a great deal of thought to the actual beginning of an adventure.  Besides the obvious "you're all in the harem in various states of undress when Jack walks in..." (see the quote at the top of page 4 of Space Rat) which might allow for some role playing between the Femme Babes as they strive to get most of Jack's attention, I do have a couple of other thoughts;

  (a) one or more Femme Babes (perhaps the "winners" of the previous mission/adventure) are out with Jack when he is kidnapped/trapped/drugged/distracted by beautiful alien princess.  Thus the ladies are "in the adventure" from the start, and can call on their gal-pals for backup.

  (b) for a mystery-oriented game, the girls can turn up for a rendezvous with Jack (business, pleasure or otherwise) and find the Space Rat missing/not turn up.

  (c) maybe we can introduce Mr Johnson & Johnson, the two-headed government appointed public relations advisor from Space Rat and the Outlandish Outbursts from Outerspace, who provided the femme babes with a variety of information as they tracked down the missing Jack, with the sole purpose of getting him back to Terra before the Intergalactic Independence Week Speech, where he was guest of honour.

I know, all pretty weak.  It needs some serious thought.

3. A related point: "going out to dinner with Jack" is totally lame as the reward for the Attention Star victor of the moment. Dude - you gotta give something more, and it's gotta tie right into scenario prep. My call is to have that character begin the next scenario arm-in-arm with Jack, embroiled in whatever situation he's in. See? She's on the ground floor of the scenario! Not only that, if Jack gets captured or lost or decides to catch a porno matinee, she's the one on the ground, and the others gotta scramble! Ha! Take that!

For sure!  I can't have all the answers in 24 hours (try as I might!).  I do admit I was only really thinking in terms of story award ("Your character gets to spend all the time with Jack...").  My thinking cap is in the wash, but I will be popping it back on just as soon as it's clean.

4. I don't think I need to clarify to anyone who's read the rules that you have an amazing hand at producing Cosmos Jack book prose. Here's what I suggest as well: that a major part of play focus on referencing old works and creating excerpts for (whoops, I mean "from") new ones. And that ties into the real point of play - whether your Femme Babe is just a walk-on in the present novel, or whether she's the real hero! We know from your excerpts and game text that the Femme Babes are the heroes. The question is whether mine is, in play, and why.


I always like the suggestion in WEG's Star Wars that you should use techno-babble reminiscent of the films.  I imagine "quoting" from the text to be simmilar.  Particularly when a character fails a test of luck and another player has the chance to describe the failed action.

Hey, another thought, maybe "winning" a previous game grants a Femme Babe the status of hero for the next.  Being the main character of the novel/adventure might (will/should) grant some advantage - maybe a tweak of the Luck rules for that character.

I'd say its the best offering from this first Ronnies contest.
Although I like Cutthroat and Black Widows a lot too.

I'm amazed that Nathan knocked it out in a day, much kudos!

Thanks, but the Kudos  goes to my very (very) patient wife.  She cooked for and waited on me, and entertained our son for hours so that I could work uninterrupted.  So, the second edition of Space Rat is going to have to have a dedication to her - the ultimate femme babe!  (Ummm, is that a complement)

It's a beautiful game. I love the backbiting play. My favourite game, apart from indie games of course, is Paranoia, and this reminds me of that.

My one worry is that it wouldn't hold up for more than a few sessions. It looks like tremendous fun, but there's not much to make me want to play the same character for a campaign. Is there any room for overarching plots that span several games? Something like that?

I was definitely thinking about Paranoia as I wrote the game - all that underhand (and overt!) sabotage is great!  While I was writing I wasn't thinking about the game being played as a long term campaign, mostly because (a) the games of Paranoia I have played never seemed to last more than a few sessions before everyone used up all their clones, (b) I was writing a game for myself, and my regular game group tends to play short "mini-series" as opposed to long campaigns, and (c) I imagined the Jack Cosmos novels a bit like James Bond stories, with a different "bond girl" each adventure.

With this said, however, you could certainly build longer story arcs for campaigns.  An option that springs to mind is to create an objective for each femme babe.  Come up with a goal related to the femme babe's origin archetype/stereotype (slave girl, space girl, ship wrecked girl).  For example, the slave girl might want revenge on the pirates that engage in the slave trade, and the ship wrecked girl might want to find her parents who were also lost on the same ship wreck.  They should be goals that a girl could not complete unless she had the influence, money or status that an association with the galaxies greatest hero (i.e. Jack Cosmos) would bring.  Now we have a whole new level to the game - the femme babes want Jack's attention so they can use his resources and influence.  Maybe "winning" a game gives you a "goal star" and when you have accrued enough, your femme babe can drag Jack (and the girls) off on her own personal quest.  And what if the girls had opposing goals....

Anyway, there are some of my thoughts.  Thanks for everyone's positive words!  Now if anyone does play Space Rat, let me know how it goes.

Nathan
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: October 06, 2005, 09:13:58 AM »

Hi Nathan!

1. On the "cool moment," we agree entirely. Whenever everyone goes wow! great! cracks up, or whatever, that's a cool moment, and the Femme Babe gets the bonus. This is precisely the same rule as in Sorcerer, so I'm all about that stuff.

2. We are also totally on the same page about Jack. He's a plot device, not played as an entity in the same sense as a Femme Babe, and the points describing him are for laughs only.

3. Actually, I think our points of view about the beginnings of adventures aren't very far off. I don't think you have to provide hundreds of specific examples, so much as nail down the principles one follows for prep. Here's how I'd see it, currently.

a) The 'Babe who ended with the most Attention Stars last time is currently with Jack on an adventure. The others are not - they may or may not already be in Jack's entourage, or they might be totally on their own, or whatever, but they aren't his "companion" of the moment.

b) Jack does something outrageously stupid and/or has something unlucky happen to him; he disappears off the map. A variety of aspects of the situation approach desperation - either he was supposed to be stopping something dangerous, or he's needed elsewhere, or whatever.

c) Femme Babes go into action! After that, given only the most minimal (but necessary) prep regarding bad guys and ambiguous guys and anything that imaginably could have been in the Flash Gordon movie (whether it was or wasn't), play will then write itself.

4. I think the "mini-series" approach makes most sense anyway. My suggestion is that its length and scope and content be enough for people to write up excerpts from what is obviously a novel. Again, that doesn't mean that play actually has to produce the whole thing, nor (ever!) should the GM actually conceive of the novel as a whole first. All he does is provide bad guys, ambiguous guys, etc (see above). I could see six or seven rocking sessions emerge from this, with some awesome excerpts, very easily.

Time for playtesting and a new draft!!

Best,
Ron
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