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Author Topic: [Stalin's Story] Ronnies feedback  (Read 4612 times)
Ron Edwards
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« on: January 02, 2006, 09:32:31 AM »

Stalin's Story by Sydney Gijsberg seems to me a thought-provoking Game Notion.

I have never enjoyed a "compete to entertain me" game design, nor been convinced that it's a viable model for design. In this case, I'm seeing a cross between Once Upon a Time and The Great Dalmuti, with the slightly-unsatisying parts of both firmly in place. I can see that the combination of [argue in character] + [entertain me judgment] might work in a very specific LARP context, which I really don't see as an SIS-type thing. I could be totally wrong, though, and not seeing how Stalin's judgment becomes a key tactical factor for the Stalin player.

Sydney, here's what you can do to improve my understanding: describe actual play experiences of yours which illustrate how competing to entertain a central person can operate toward fun. RPG experiences would be preferred, but also off-RPG stuff - I'm thinking about charades, in which it works because you have teams, and because "in-character-ness" isn't involved.

Best,
Ron
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Victor Gijsbers
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« Reply #1 on: January 02, 2006, 11:45:47 AM »

Hi Ron,

It's Victor Gijsbers actually, don't know where you got the Sydney from. :)

I am afraid one thing that tripped me up is that I failed to make a clear distinction between Stalin the character and the player who gets to play Stalin (and has all the associated powers). Because it certainly is the case that the actors have to entertain Stalin (fictionally), but it is not the case that the players playing actors have to entertain the player playing Stalin. All players are equally part of the performance, and if anyone has a special duty to keep things moving and entertaining it is the player playing Stalin - with power comes responsibility, let's say. So although at the end of the game Stalin the character will judge whether he did or did not have fun, it is not the case that the player playing Stalin has to judge whether he did or did not have fun.

Does that make sense? The players don't compete to entertain a specific player; their characters (at least some of them) try to entertain a specific other character. Because I didn't make this clear enough, I think you have misunderstood the aim of the game. (But perhaps my own assessment of the game is wrong instead - if so, please press the point.)


What the players are doing is trying to persuade the player playing Stalin to 'sentence to death' (remove from the game) players who are not themselves. They do this by having their characters make the other characters look like fools or traitors or bourgeois capitalist pigs or to have these characters displease Stalin the character. Chances are that the player playing Stalin will play Stalin in such a way that he does not favour traitors, but rather condemns them to death. Players playing actors and players playing courtiers alike are trying to make each other's characters displease Stalin, using their story cards.


Let me take a step back. When I was designing this game I wanted to make a game about totalitarianism. Not just a game where the characters live in a totalitarian society, because I felt that that would most often come down to people telling each other that totalitarianism isn't much fun - not very enlightening. And not a game that would present and drive home my view on totalitarianism either. I wanted to make a game were totalitarianism was experienced, right there in play; a game that set up power relations which mirrored those of totalitarianism.

What excites me about the game is that is might actually teach its players something about power, because of the way totalitarianism is brought into the social structure of the players and thus immediately experienced. (With, of course, a safety hatch - the game's zeroth rule.) You mention 'key tactical factor's - but part of the point of the game is that although there seems to be a tactical level, the reward system is utterly unpredictable. The player playing Stalin might decide to 'kill' the player whose character has behaved himself perfectly well and has not been made suspicious by anyone. In fact, that is the way Stalin did rule, in his more paranoid periods. Tactics only exist by Stalin's grace.


Hm, I hope this has made the aim of the game clearer. It's not about entertaining a central person, and at its root it is not even about having fun. But that is where my main, big, huge worry lies: it must be fun to play, otherwise, nobody will play it and any potential for giving insight it might have is simply wasted!

After I submitted the game, I got to thinking that it might work best as a fast, humorous, exuberant game, where the main fun comes from the challenge of quick improvisational acting, and playing over-the-top characters denouncing each other for somewhat absurd, thought-up crimes. Play the game for quick laughs, and let the deeper layer about power take care of itself. In this case, not being killed by Stalin wouldn't be that important a goal, just as getting the most Oog is actually not that important in Great Ork Gods. The game would still be competitive, but it would lose the "step on up" factor that makes competition into gamism.


Stalin's Story is by far the most problematic of my games-in-progress, so I would definitely like feedback on the above. Even if it's "Dude, this is never going to work", because I myself am not sure it is ever going to work.
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Troy_Costisick
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« Reply #2 on: January 02, 2006, 12:16:49 PM »

Heya,

Quote
The player playing Stalin might decide to 'kill' the player whose character has behaved himself perfectly well and has not been made suspicious by anyone. In fact, that is the way Stalin did rule, in his more paranoid periods. Tactics only exist by Stalin's grace.

I may have just missed it when I read your game, Victor, so tell if I did.  But what scares the Stalin player to the point that he'd want to kill one character over another?  I mean, what are his loss conditions?  What mechanics in the game does he want to avoid to the point he'll order someone's death?

Peace,

-Troy

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Victor Gijsbers
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« Reply #3 on: January 02, 2006, 12:31:48 PM »

I may have just missed it when I read your game, Victor, so tell if I did.  But what scares the Stalin player to the point that he'd want to kill one character over another?  I mean, what are his loss conditions?  What mechanics in the game does he want to avoid to the point he'll order someone's death?

None. There is a rule that says he has to kill at least one person, but the rules do in fact give him the license to break that rule if he so wishes. The point of being Stalin is simply to enjoy the power that comes with it (and it is very much on purpose that roles are assigned randomly) and, since you have all the power, also to make sure the game is enjoyable for all the other participants and runs nicely.

These two goals may not always point in the same direction.

(And here's a somewhat scary thought: what is the point of being a traditional GameMaster? Is it not to make sure the game is enjoyable for all the other participants and to enjoy the power that comes with it? Although I'll grant you that the latter is not mentioned very often.)


Of course, that makes perfect sense given the socio-political goals of the game. But does it also make sense as an element of a game that must, at least in the majority of play instances, be fun? Do you think having one player who has neither win nor loss conditions will make the game unplayable?
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Troy_Costisick
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« Reply #4 on: January 02, 2006, 12:46:28 PM »

Heya,

Quote
Of course, that makes perfect sense given the socio-political goals of the game. But does it also make sense as an element of a game that must, at least in the majority of play instances, be fun? Do you think having one player who has neither win nor loss conditions will make the game unplayable?

-For me, personally?  Yeah.  But, I mean, so what?  That might just be the style I play.  Take what I say with a grain of salt :)  But here's my suggestion for ya.  If it wouldn't ruin what your game is about, do you think you might be able to include ways for the PCs to undermine Stalin's authority?  I totally get that you're looking to create a "Totalitarian" feel to your game, and I dig that.  But I'd also say that every tyrant has been threatened and undermined as some point.

-How about creating ways for PCs to stop an execution, strike at Stalin's holdings (something you as the game designer would have to create for him.  Currency of some kind for instance), or sow unrest and discontent in the Soviet Empire.  Then the PCs that did it could try to blame the other PCs for what happened and escape punishment.  If Stalin kills an innocent character, he loses more currency.  If he runs out, he's toppled. 

-PCs could also do things to stregthen Stalin.  In otherwords, turn people in, spread propiganda, or go on a spy mission to try to earn his favor.  Perhaps they could even cash in that favor later to avoid a death sentence.  Anyway, doing that would increase Stalin's currency and perhaps stave off death.

-Thus, you'd have some of the PCs undermining Stalin.  Some of the PCs strengthening his rule.  And the Stalin character trying to figure out who's doing what.  That sounds a whole lot like a totalitarian regime to me personally.

-Not sure if all that is what you're looking for, but I do hope it helps in someway.  If any of it isn't clear, let me know and I'll be happy to clarify it :)

Peace,

-Troy 
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Victor Gijsbers
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« Reply #5 on: January 02, 2006, 12:57:04 PM »

Hey, Troy, this is actually great. I guess it would involve major changes in the system, but I'm definitely going to ponder the possibilities suggested by these points. I'll have to think some more about it first.
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Rob MacDougall
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« Reply #6 on: January 05, 2006, 09:01:17 PM »

Hi Victor, hi Troy:

I promise I'll comment more substantively soon, but I just wanted to point you both to two games with parallels to Stalin's Story as written and also to the modifications Troy is suggesting here (ie, exposing Stalin to some amount of threat).

One is Neel Krishnaswami's Court of the Empress, recently posted on 20x20 Room. It's very simple, almost entirely an acting and improv exercise, where players compete to win the favor of a cruel empress who has the power of life and death over them. The point comes solely in the performance and in the reading of what other players like.

The other was my entry to this last round of the Ronnies, General Mud, in which there is a Stalin-like GM figure, but he can under certain circumstances be toppled and replaced by the other players. If you adapt Stalin's Story in the way Troy is suggesting, it will bear some resemblance to General Mud, I think. (Some resemblance, not exact resemblance, by any means.)

As I say, I will return with more specific comment on Stalin's Story, so I'm not just fishing for feedback on my game without offering it in return. But there are similarities as well as differences and it might be revealing to look at how the different games contrast.

best,
Rob
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