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Author Topic: [Alien Angels] Ronnies feedback  (Read 3494 times)
Ron Edwards
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« on: October 05, 2005, 06:00:41 AM »

Hello,

Why look, more objectified female bimboids ... I think it's another Ronnies winner!!

Michael Walton's Alien Angels is your basic sexy alien RPG, but with actual sex! Funny how all those girlfriend games have precious little fucking going on in them. No such problem here.

Now, I'm going to go out on a limb here, Michael, and guess that you've played a lot of White Wolf games. If not those, then their 1990s cousins and spawn: Shadowrun, Earthdawn, Fading Suns, Legend of the Five Rings, and similar. Right? Wrong? I'm going to write the rest of this post as if I'm right, so if I'm wrong, hold your nose and see what fits anyway.

I'm now going to be rather harsh regarding many aspects of most games published by the companies listed above. The trouble is, not only are these aspects No Fun in play, which in the games I mentioned are no skin off my nose, they are also currently marring Alien Angels, and for that reason, I am putting on the Terminate with Extreme Prejudice hat.

1. Regarding resolution, I see a combination of varying number of dice with a varying target number. This is no good. I realize it's common and familiar, but in practice, it fails badly compared to two alternatives (keeping one steady or absent). In this case, you have already done a great job by identifying opposing scores as the proper target number. You'll complete the picture by eliminating the dice-pool idea, which means that the attribute scores are going to have to be about something else or get eliminated entirely. I know that hurts. But dice-pool plus target-number really, really doesn't work well once you've tried the alternatives.

I anticipate some argument about this, unfortunately, so hold off - I provide some more ideas about it in #4 below.

Resolution is also absolutely screaming for a rollover-bonus method of some kind, such that one roll's success can feed into the next. See HeroQuest, Sorcerer, and Conspiracy of Shadows for three different ways to do it.

3. The "concept" step in character needs to be shot in the head. This is a holdover from "will he fit into my scenario" thinking. In Alien Angels, once you get the race and your scores, the concept is right there.

4. I usually am suspicious of player-character creation which involves long skill lists, but in this case it's nicely non-layered. That provides my solution for the criticism in #1 - eliminate the attributes altogether, and put things like "strong" and "smart" or whatever into the system as skills. Yes, I know that gamer-think says "but these aren't skills!" That's OK. You can call them whatever you want. But try it out, really - you'll see that you get very, very clear and effective characters, a straightforward creation system, and absolutely spotless play through this approach.

So a character would be composed of: Race, Wound pools, Skills (now including all nine "traits" as skills), Resources, and Powers, which are of course just skills as currently written.

And resolution would be composed of: rolls that always use the same number of dice, using the target numbers just as they are now, and using skills just as they are now. You now also have "Nerve" rolls and similar "trait" stuff handled exactly the same as any "skill."

5. I think that damage seems awfully wimpy, as well as requiring too much handling time. To be nasty just for a moment, I have observed that veterans of the games I mentioned tend to be weenies about taking damage - they like to absorb it, but they perceive taking a solid hit and dropping in their tracks as unfair or no fun. I suggest that you incorporate take-downs and take-outs as a very likely feature of play.

The nice thing is that every one of the above criticisms is actually easily fixed by a simplifying pencil slash, reducing the existing rules into more playable, more clear, and more fun/effective rules, not by adding patch rules. Now for the bigger picture.

Playing Alien Angels needs a much stronger focus on the mating game itself than currently implied. This includes rivalries, the attitudes and responses of potential partners, consequences of liaisons, etc. Currently, all I see are dodging gunshots, fooling security guards, alley-fights, and other Shadowrun-y things - stuff you do before or on the way to the conflicts which matter. I'd like to see more about those conflicts - setting them up, resolving them, building further prep from their consequences.

A related and major point: Androids. They are the bad guys, and emphasizing that will strengthen the game's current greatest weakness - the androids' hatred. The androids' hatred is a big deal. They are the antithesis of the highly sexualized, happily 2-d, fun-intense female protagonists. They should be vile puritans, the ultimate squeaky-clean, purer-than-thou G-Men. Not only are they protecting the pure-human bloodline, they are bigoted, snotty, patronizing, and deadly about it. They don't just show up and attack the heroes; they hate them, and they are expert liars, hypocrites, power-mongers, and assholes. That oughtta be in every single scenario. Oh, and remove androids entirely from the character creation system - putting them there and then saying "Oh, they don't make good player-characters" is just confusing.

Michael, looking over all that, what do you think? Leaner, meaner, clearer, and cooler?

Best,
Ron
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tygertyger
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Posts: 45

Ever unscrewing the inscrutible


« Reply #1 on: October 05, 2005, 03:59:31 PM »

Now, I'm going to go out on a limb here, Michael, and guess that you've played a lot of White Wolf games.

Not a lot, but I've played them.  And yes, those games did indeed influence the design of Alien Angels.  This is due largely to the reasons for the financial successes of most of the games that you mentioned.  I've met very few people who are big believers of the game mechanics for WW's Storyteller system and even fewer who like Shadowrun, and yet those games are making lots of money.  The reason why, IMHO opinion, is that all of those games have highly engaging settings and situations.  That was what I was aiming for.

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Regarding resolution, I see a combination of varying number of dice with a varying target number. This is no good. I realize it's common and familiar, but in practice, it fails badly compared to two alternatives (keeping one steady or absent). In this case, you have already done a great job by identifying opposing scores as the proper target number.

Hmmm... then, eliminating dice pools (which I'm not really fond of, anyway -- it was just the best that I could think of at the time), how does setting the base TN at opposing score + a standard modifier sound?  The opposing score alone won't work if the "skill reduces difficulty" mechanic is retained, and I'm rather attached to that.  Say, standard difficulty of opposing score + 3?  Playtest will tell.

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The "concept" step in character needs to be shot in the head. This is a holdover from "will he fit into my scenario" thinking. In Alien Angels, once you get the race and your scores, the concept is right there.

Not necessarily.  I included the concept step for the express purpose of helping players who have trouble deciding on character concepts -- such players are annoyingly common in my experience.  Even normally decisive players may waffle when learning a new system.  Providing that kind of concept help is precisely why class-based systems (which I dislike) do so well.  Of course, I'm enough of a control freak to know that players who can make up their minds quickly won't want to be straight-jacketed into one of the molds given.  Those players should feel free to ignore this step -- and maybe I need to articulate that in the rules.

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I usually am suspicious of player-character creation which involves long skill lists, but in this case it's nicely non-layered. That provides my solution for the criticism in #1 - eliminate the attributes altogether, and put things like "strong" and "smart" or whatever into the system as skills. [snip]So a character would be composed of: Race, Wound pools, Skills (now including all nine "traits" as skills), Resources, and Powers, which are of course just skills as currently written.

I'm loathe to eliminate the stats altogether, but streamlining their role is clearly necessary.  See above for my proposed alternate solution.

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And resolution would be composed of: rolls that always use the same number of dice, using the target numbers just as they are now, and using skills just as they are now.

Yep.  Either your solution or mine lets the system run just fine with 1d10 rolls.

Quote
I think that damage seems awfully wimpy, as well as requiring too much handling time. To be nasty just for a moment, I have observed that veterans of the games I mentioned tend to be weenies about taking damage - they like to absorb it, but they perceive taking a solid hit and dropping in their tracks as unfair or no fun. I suggest that you incorporate take-downs and take-outs as a very likely feature of play.

Wimpy?  With the small wound pools (maximum of 13 on each damage track, and that requires superhuman stats)?  It doesn't take much to kill someone using a firearm with that system; with the dice pool in place, a single shot from a handgun could do as much as 8 Wounds without critting.  As little as three shots would take most PCs down, and the Acceleration power makes that possible in one turn.  Of course, that was with the dice pool in place.  Without it there must be another way to determine damage.

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Playing Alien Angels needs a much stronger focus on the mating game itself than currently implied. This includes rivalries, the attitudes and responses of potential partners, consequences of liaisons, etc.

Oh, most definitely.  There was only so much I could do in 24 hours.  But I definitely want to explore the issues of how the aliens live and work on Earth, how they relate to Terrans and each other (it's not as if all of the various races get along perfectly...), and the different races' approaches to their common mission.  And that's before you deal with stuff like the lure of desertion and attitudes toward sharing men.

Quote
Androids. They are the bad guys, and emphasizing that will strengthen the game's current greatest weakness - the androids' hatred. The androids' hatred is a big deal. They are the antithesis of the highly sexualized, happily 2-d, fun-intense female protagonists. They should be vile puritans, the ultimate squeaky-clean, purer-than-thou G-Men.

Point of order; the "happily 2-d, fun-intense" aspect of the protagonists is certainly an option, but it's not the only possible style of play.  The aliens aren't even necessarily highly sexualized; they just need humans in order to keep their own species alive.  I probably gave a wrong impression with the play examples provided; Junai's little adventure certainly fits the happy-go-lucky mold.  But not all aliens would be like that.  Most Elang and Shauru take themselves too seriously.  I envisioned Junai as a Jodra (which should have been made clear -- and most of them are just as Ron described).  This criticism points out a need for clarifying options for play style.

Quote
Not only are they protecting the pure-human bloodline, they are bigoted, snotty, patronizing, and deadly about it.

Yeah, that aspect of the Androids definitely needs to be pointed out more.

Seems to me that the main flaws of the game revolve around a need for further development of the setting and conflict.  Am I on target here, or is there something I'm missing?
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Currently working on: Alien Angels, Dreamguards, Immaculate
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: October 06, 2005, 05:55:54 AM »

Hi Michael,

I think we need to establish some boundaries for our dialogue. I'll start with the sugar.

I greatly, greatly appreciate the commitment you're bringing to the Ronnies as a community project. It's making a big difference to me, to know that I'm not soloing. Hey everybody, do you see how Michael is taking an interest in the other Ronnies games? That's called mutualism - it's a wonderful thing, and it's what the Ronnies are intended to promote. If you submitted a game, or if you didn't, doesn't matter. Get on board. Pick a Ronnies game to read, then find the thread and comment. Don't make Michael do all the heavy lifting.

Now, about Alien Angels. This game won a Ronny. You have the logo and (soon) the $75. If you'd like, that can be it, and we're done.

On the other hand, also if you'd like, I can do as promised and effectively adopt the game as a mentor. None of my advice would be authoritative, even if it includes words like "must" and "should," but it would open up an ongoing dialogue, including playtesting, all the way up through final production, insofar as you're interested.

If you want that, then we have to establish this: don't fight me at every step. Don't try to convince me of anything, because I'm providing advice, not jostling my way into ownership or direction for the game. Convincing me of anything is irrelevant. Also, I suggest pondering ideas I provide for a good long while, not posting in snap-fashion to defend the decisions you made in a 24-hour period. If you want to reject them or take only bits and pieces then, that's great, but if I'm going to take the time to provide these points, then I expect you to take the time to chew over them.

Right now, I'm working from a nigh-unique combination of design, play, and analysis experience. That's a lotta horsepower. It applies to statements like whether White Wolf publishing really "makes money" in the way you think it does, it applies to statements like whether attributes are a good idea for game X as opposed to game Y, and many other things.

Again, no matter what I say, the final decisions are still yours; it's your game. The question is whether you want my bestial presence breathing heavily in the same room as you and it. If so, then refuting and defending against what I say isn't constructive, and we'll have to work out a better way to talk about it. If not, let me know.

Best,
Ron
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tygertyger
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Posts: 45

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« Reply #3 on: October 10, 2005, 07:50:25 PM »

I can do as promised and effectively adopt the game as a mentor. [snip]If you want that, then we have to establish this: don't fight me at every step.

My apologies, I didn't mean to come off as adversarial.  I easily shift into "thesis defense" mode (one of the few things that I retained from grad school).  And as for convincing, I admit that I do tend to do that a lot.  As to the aforementioned bestial presence, well, between the two of us you're the one who has published a game.  I could do worse for input.

Now, as to specific criticisms of AA:

The dice pool system -- already discussed as being unnecessarily complex and time-consuming.  I can see that.  Leaving it out creates a void in terms of determing degrees of success.  I can think of two replacements that don't require too much retooling of the existing mechanics.  One is to use the amount that the roll is made by as the degree of success (rolling the target number exactly is one degree, one over the target is two degrees, etc.).  The other is to roll a second d10 solely for degree of success (i.e. the Check Digit in SJG's In Nomine).  I currently favor the second approach -- less math involved that way -- but I'd like to hear others' opinions on both.

The character concept section -- this is something that, for reasons that I articulated in my earlier post, I really feel is necessary.  Not for everyone, to be sure, but for a good many players.  I must confess, Ron, that I don't understand your objection to it.  I tried to structure the listed concepts not to shoehorn all PCs into a limited number of character types (which is what class systems tend to to) but to clarify a character's in-game functions in terms of skill sets.  The concepts given won't just fit an AA campaign, they'd fit into almost any rpg IMO.  What am I missing here?

Damage -- I freely admit that I didn't consider having one-shot kills or KOs.   While they're certainly possible irl, I didn't make rules for them in AA.  Such things become easier with the "degree of success die" system -- with 1-10 possible degrees of success, and each degree being one point of damage, attacks become correspondingly deadlier.  This is especially true if a weapon grants a bonus to the DOS of a successful attack; a weapon with a +3 bonus (like a handgun) could potentially take down even the toughest character with one shot.

I'll await response and discussion on these points before inquiring about others.
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Frank T
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« Reply #4 on: October 23, 2005, 07:40:28 AM »

Hey Michael, hey Ron,

Sorry to take so long, I’ve been wanting to read the whole document and comment on it for weeks, but didn’t find the leisure.

Alien Angels was one of the first Ronny games to really get me interested. The teaser text sounded really cool, and I liked the background pretty well as I read a little into it. I was disappointed when I started scrolling down and read over the rules’ headlines. I freely admit my thought was: “Oh, another WoD clone.” You see, we get plenty of those in German 24 h contests. But.

Ron, I think it’s a very strong statement to pick Alien Angels as a Ronny winner. And a good statement at that. The game has a neat setting and the details have been shaped with great enthusiasm indeed. I know a lot of people who’d be quite alright with it as it is. Myself, prefer games that lend a little more support in inspiring and guiding what happens in actual play. In Alien Angels, there is only this paragraph:

Quote
The androids continually try to
delay Earth’s development of interstellar travel using bureaucratic manipulation,
economic chaos and, when necessary, outright sabotage. The machines hope
that the delay will be long enough for the colonists to die out. The aliens are
aware of the androids’ strategy and fear that it may work, so they send covert
operatives to Earth in the guise of Terran women. Most are there to collect
sperm samples to send home, but others have been sent for the express
purpose of finding human mates and having hybrid offspring. Still others have
“gone native.” They no longer want any part of the war; they’d be perfectly happy
to find the right man, settle down and have babies. Of course, meeting Mr. Right
is a lot more complicated when one has an imperfect grasp of the language and
culture. It’s even harder when one isn’t quite human – at least, not the local
variety. And there’s no mood killer like having vengeful androids barge in right
when the evening is taking an intimate turn. Life on Earth isn’t easy for alien
girls, but it beats being a childless spinster back home.

It’s understood that players and GM will find a place and something to do for the characters in this setup without any assistence by the game. And that’s what most gamers are used to. But Michael, if you develope the game, I’ll strongly recommend more structure as to what play is going to be about. Take Ron’s proposal and focus on the actual mating. That’s more than just setting information. It’s the very core of your game concept.

As for “playing styles”, I think it’d do the game much better if you decide on “happy-go-lucky” and stick with it, enforcing it throughout the game text. Do you really think Alien Angels will perform well when being played as some dark and brutal sci-fi/horror type game? Or a high-tech-thriller? I don’t think so. Stay true to your sources.

Regarding your last post: Resolution mechanic sounds fine to me.

Character concept: I’m with Ron here. It’d be fully sufficient to include some general text on consistancy etc. in the character creation section. Like: “Make the traits fit the picture of your character in your head.” Players will be able to do that without your generic archetypes. Plus: I don’t pick a concept first and then go look for a species. Of course I go looking for a species I find cool and build my character around that. What else would I do?

Combat: Personally, I’d skip the whole combat round, movement etc. But that’s just me. Playtesting is what the combat system really needs.

- Frank
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IMAGinES
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« Reply #5 on: October 24, 2005, 03:51:53 AM »

Hi, everyone,

I hope you'll forgive a few questions, but on reading the game, one thing gave me pause:

What is it that the player can have their characters do as a party during the game? As written, the game seems fairly clear on the one-female-pursuing-a-mate business, but how does adding another player or players change that? Does more than one layer shift the focus? Do the other players simply help whomever is in the spotlight procure a sperm sample?
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tygertyger
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Ever unscrewing the inscrutible


« Reply #6 on: October 24, 2005, 04:08:26 PM »

What is it that the player can have their characters do as a party during the game? As written, the game seems fairly clear on the one-female-pursuing-a-mate business, but how does adding another player or players change that?

  Excellent question.  That's where the game needs more guidance in terms of what the PCs do.  That subject needs to be covered in detail in a Missions section (which I need to add); players and GMs need some more help in figuring out what the aliens do besides chasing guys and running from androids.  Slipping hints to Terran scientists is definitely a plausible mission; the ETs want Earth to develop interstellar travel, after all, and the sooner the better.  And dodging the bureaucratic manipulations of the androids is the sort of thing that will be easier with cooperation.

Heh... I just thought of a sample adventure to add to the book.  A "Mission Impossible" style caper in which a team of aliens has to sneak into a high-security propulsion lab and plant some data that will accelerate Earth's development of FTL drives.  This can easily be written to require characters with multiple skill sets.  The accidental discovery of a genetically compatible male or two would make a great complication.
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