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Author Topic: [General Mud] Ronnies feedback  (Read 18577 times)
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #15 on: January 11, 2006, 09:38:06 AM »

Hello,

Wait, wait, that input isn't irrelevant, Troy. I have to say "busted," referring to myself, on your history-class call, Gareth. I can't reconcile the assumptions/labeling that are intrinsic to the novel with real history either.

I think a number of your points about the larger issues are irrelevant here, but that'd be a topic for other websites.

So the game seems best to me to be considered as a literary political pastime, rather than a historical one. Switch my "use it in classrooms" phrase from history to literature? I can live with that.

With that in mind, Rob, what will you be looking for in playtesting? My own list includes:

- what kinds of actions distinguish white from red dice

- the currency interactions in general, but especially whether the mud dice are overwhelming

- whether people find the basic conflicts among the broad types of actions worth pursuing

- what "winning" might or might not be, for this game

Best,
Ron
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #16 on: January 11, 2006, 03:12:26 PM »

"Busted"? "Not history but literature"? I'm not so sure.

Gareth, I certainly see your point that the game assumes the failure of the revolution by automatically selecting someone to be "General Mud," which is assuming some kind of dictatorship rather than democracy (of which one example would be "all power to the Soviets" for real). So the game's not in fact a useful teaching tool on "why revolutions fail," although I'd argue it's a pretty good one for "how the failure of revolutions affects people."

My problem with Gareth's argument is that I can't think of a historical case in which a Communist revolution actually did create a more-or-less lasting democracy. I can think of Social Democratic parties that have made all sorts of accomplishments and helped create greater democracy than previously existed in their respective countries; I can think of revolutions (including bloodless but illegal seizures of power) inspired by non-Communist ideologies that have led to greater democracy; but I can't think of an event that's clearly (a) a revolution and (b) Communist that hasn't led, within a few years, to some form of undemocratic rule that would be pretty fairly described by a game of General Mud.

Obviously, I'm entirely open to counter-examples, though anything beyond a brief capsule mention along the lines of "hey, check out the history of this, which disproves your assertion in this way, and here's some useful links" is probably beyond the scope of this thread. Such counter-examples, assuming people can find them, would make a nice item for an endnote or historical postscript to the final game.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #17 on: January 11, 2006, 08:51:17 PM »

Finally, here's an interesting quandary. Right now, I'm trying to frame a post to answer Victor's questions in [Stalin's Story] Ronnies feedback, in which I'm going to claim that playing Stalin and arbitrating play isn't functional, or at least, isn't reliably functional for me. Whereas in this story, you do have someone playing General Mud, who does have GMing responsibilities too, and yet I'm saying it's brilliant, wins a full award, blah blah. Any comments on the differences? I think it'll be a useful comparison.
I want to hear more about this too!

I've got a rough hypothesis: As everyone starts as players, everyone works at an equal currency level. I don't mean mechanical currency, but personal investment. Most importantly, these transactions are remembered by all players.

Okay, when someone launches into the GM seat where they work at a much higher currency level, they still have the remains of these transactions at the lower level. It'd be kind of like being a nerd at school, but becoming a rock god after you leave school. The thing is, the people who knew you at school remember what you did and what you were like before you hit such lofty position. They will compare what you were, with what your doing now.

Here, the GM never really escapes the player role he was in before, because everything he does as GM can still be judged at the player level. Even though he's working at a higher currency level, he's still tied intimately to the SIS everyone else is in. And thus he's still contributing like a player - his GM'ing actions don't dispationately manage the game from a higher social contract level. Instead they add turmoil and drama right at the player level, because he just can't escape it. Yet he's forfilling the called for GM duties that keep a game kicking along.

I like this! I hope I'm not way off! How accurate is this hypothesis?
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contracycle
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« Reply #18 on: January 12, 2006, 02:18:31 AM »

Gareth, I certainly see your point that the game assumes the failure of the revolution by automatically selecting someone to be "General Mud," which is assuming some kind of dictatorship rather than democracy (of which one example would be "all power to the Soviets" for real). So the game's not in fact a useful teaching tool on "why revolutions fail," although I'd argue it's a pretty good one for "how the failure of revolutions affects people."

Agreed, somewhat.  That is, I think the phenomenon observed in "failed revolutions" is a phenomenon observed in other contexts too - its the issue of hero-worship and the fetishisation of authority.  I would suggest that the model can just as accurately be applied, for example, to George Bush's ability to rewrite history when he claimed that Iraq and Al Qaeda had known links, and that this untruth is still believed by a sizable number of people purely because he said it.  Or the denunciation of John Kerry as a "leftwing extremist", and outright absurd claim to the ears of anyone familiar wityh the left in any degree.

A combination of fear of power and uncritical acceptance of the leadership of the "right kind of person" produces an Emperors New Clothes phenomenon that can be profoundly dangerous to everyone involved.  As is well known, a sense of external threat is very useful in bringing the public to this point - and in the case of the USSR, considering Hitlers anti-communist crisade and subsequent discussions in NATO, at he end of the war, about possibly "pushing on to Moscow", that perception was stongly reinforced.

Quote
Obviously, I'm entirely open to counter-examples, though anything beyond a brief capsule mention along the lines of "hey, check out the history of this, which disproves your assertion in this way, and here's some useful links" is probably beyond the scope of this thread. Such counter-examples, assuming people can find them, would make a nice item for an endnote or historical postscript to the final game.

The problem is that this presupposes a faulty view of the Marxist thesis.  There is no possibility whatsoever of communism appearing in a single state; to even look for a "communist state" is a contradiction in terms.  Marxism is not a proposition for an alternative mode of government - it as an argument that human society has an evolutionary trajectory, and that upon the advent of Industrialism a new form of social organisation became feasible - one that does not depend upon the systematic exploitation and extortion of those who actually keep society running through their labour, by those who live parasitically off that labour purely due to their property rights enforced by the armed might of the state.

This is why I have repeatedly referred to McCarthyist historiography, and why I regard the USA as the most comprehensively propagandised state on the planet today - it has systematically propagated a fictitious set of claims and criteria by which Marxism is to be judged, a set of straw men to be knocked down by spurious argument, such as the demand for an example of a "communist state" - it literally demands, as proof, an outcome that Marxist theory insists is impossible.  As always, this sort of deception relies upon the fundamental ignorance of the audience to whom it is directed as to the actual content of Marxist argument, and their willingness to accept the pronouncements of the formal authorities without question.

And if the Marxist legacy found in the post-Bernstein social democratic parties is insufficient, consider this: we stopped the First World War.  Russia, in 1917, was far from the only Western state to undergo massive civil unrest and popular risings as a result of the trauma of the trenches, and England very nearly underwent its own revolution, Lloyd George remarking "it was the nearest run thing you ever saw".  WWI was brought to an end by the unwillingness of the many to die in the interests of the high and mighty few, and was heavily informed by Marxist criticism of the bourgeois state.  That is why WWI was ended by an Armistice, not a victory - although only in Russia did this pan-European unrest actually succeed in overthrowing the state.

Marxism has a proud history, and a proven track record for cogent and correct analysis of the tensions in modern Industrial society, and the simplisitc and ill-informed determinism by which its critics presume to judge it is simply invalid.  A theory must be engaged in terms of its own claims and predictions if it is to be attacked, and thats precisely the kind of conversation the moralism of Animal Farm seeks to avoid by taking refuge in metaphor.
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droog
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« Reply #19 on: January 12, 2006, 02:30:39 AM »

I think Ron is right. In the light of Paul Czege's recent comment:

Quote
Roleplaying is increasingly the most socially threatening and personally dangerous leisure pastime in middle america.... The activity of playing the game puts programming into your brain. (Thank god I have your best interests at heart.)

it would be a pity to abandon the question of exactly what politics underly a game--particularly a game about a political subject. History or literature, somebody always writes it.
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AKA Jeff Zahari
contracycle
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« Reply #20 on: January 12, 2006, 02:46:29 AM »

Anyway....

The bulk of that is off topic in terms of the game.  I certainly agree that that it would work best when considered as a study of the book, without too many express or implied claims about the real world.  And I think the model of the coloured dice indicating something like ideological conventions is very interesting indeed.  I wonder if it is possible that the system might be broadedened to serve more generally as a model for the kinds of conflicts that occur in, for example, monarchic courts.  What the model most represents to me is the operation of factionalism.  Any complex organisation has a continuing problem in reconciling its interests as a whole with the individual interests of its members, and it appears to me this conflict that is represented by the exchange of 'selfsh' dice for 'collective' dice.  Similarly, when General Mud puts his own black dice into play to present a challenge to the other players, this can be construed as the way in which allegiance to a cause obliges you to take on enemies you might not have made for yourself.  Again, its the trade-off inherent to complex organisations, governed by an internal social contract: in exchange for aid in achieveing your agenda X, you are obliged to provide support for collective agenda Y.  Sometimes these tensions cannot be resolved and one party breaks away, or defects to another side.  Thata element of the mechanic, divorced vfrom the notional setting, is quite compelling, I think.
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #21 on: January 12, 2006, 05:54:39 PM »

Wait, wait, wait.

Gareth, please tell me I'm misunderstanding you, because what I can make out of your argument is that:

1) General Mud, Animal Farm, and most Western analyses of the USSR and Communism are "McCarthyist," "moralist analysis," "ignore... a substantial quantity of history," express a "comprehensively propagandised" outlook, and constitute a "nice self-fulfilling prophecy,"

2) Whereas your critique of Rob MacDougall's and George Orwell's/Eric Blair's work is based only on objective, dispassionate "material analysis," drawing on Marxism's "proven track record for cogent and correct analysis of the tensions in modern Industrial society"

3) and therefore you can authoritatively conclude that General Mud is a fatally flawed depiction of history because its mechanics emulate what actually happened after every extralegal seizure of power ("revolution") by self-described Marxists, when you would prefer it to emulate events that have not to date occurred but which Marxist theory predicts will occur sometime in the future?

Gareth, I happen to believe that Jesus of Nazareth will return to earth at some undetermined point to make an end of Time and to judge the living and the dead (n.b. not holding my breath, mind you), but I don't claim to have a scientific basis for that belief, and I don't berate other people for expressing thoughts about the "trajectory" of human history that give short shrift to it. In what way is your future global Communism any less faith-based an eschatology than mine?

More to the point of the thread, why on earth should Rob listen to your arguments and make any of your suggested changes to his brilliant game, let alone make any apologies for it? Why should he, for example, strip away one bit of the powerfully resonant history and reduce it to a "model [of] the operation of factionalism...divorced from the notional setting"? If you'd like to make an argument for your understanding of "the evolutionary trajectory...of human society," instead of Rob's understanding, you need to write your own game.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #22 on: January 12, 2006, 08:13:03 PM »

H'm,

I think this discussion has so far been in the bounds of "guys talking, knowing that hot-buttons and some caring are involved." For instance, I think the whole issue of ideals and who's idealistic and who's not can simply be placed in the realm of "oh, look, not how I see it," without it being a source of contention.

Gareth and I gave each other a little space based on deciding what's worth blazing into a big disagreement and what's not. We didn't even work it out via PM or anything, just the posts you see here. Both of us are using food for thought regarding the game as our yardstick.

So Sydney, consider giving a little space. The game will not live or die based on whether you win a debate. Rob's the author, and he can make his own decisions. Right now the goal is only for all of us to understand one another, and a little rhetoric along the way, here and there, is just part of the expected landscape when these issues are involved. No need for defensive modes. Gareth, if you could hold off on responding to Sydney point-by-point, I'd appreciate it.

In fact, maybe it'd be good for Rob to be the next person who weighs in.

Best,
Ron
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Rob MacDougall
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« Reply #23 on: January 12, 2006, 08:48:33 PM »

Hi all:

Thanks for all the discussion and sorry I've been quiet a few days. I'm in kind of a work crunch right now, with something due next week, so I won't be able to give General Mud, or this conversation, or the other Ronnies threads, the attention I'd like before then. But for what it's worth, I'm enjoying the thread, and I find both the game design talk and the political talk around the game interesting and worthwhile as long as everyone keeps it friendly, like Ron suggests. I appreciate Sydney and Troy getting my back, as it were, but I wasn't troubled by anything Gareth posted. I respect that these are subjects people take seriously and I don't think that Gareth was ever demanding an apology or revisions to the game or anything. At the same time, I think it's cool that a game can open up some modest political discussion. I'm intrigued by the possibility of political rpgs - not polemics or sermons, but genuine games that mess around with, play with political ideas. (I'd love to package a completed General Mud with a completed version of my proposed "capitalist" Sorcerer supplement, Sorcerer Incorporated, and thus offend both ends of the political spectrum.)

Regarding the game itself, right now I'm thinking about Ron's question about what to look for during playtesting. I know what I fear, which is that in terms of IIEE, the game is a mess, or at least, it gives no guidance. I have no idea: how much scene framing and setting a GM should do, how long players will talk before putting dice in play, how much back and forth there will be between the GM and between players, how much gets narrated before dice are rolled, who talks after dice are rolled, how this will all work in the Revolution phase before there's a GM - all these fundamental things that can totally screw you up. Without stifling other conversation, any thoughts on those issues would be greatly appreciated.

cheers,
Rob
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contracycle
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« Reply #24 on: January 13, 2006, 12:46:04 AM »

Gareth, I happen to believe that Jesus of Nazareth will return to earth at some undetermined point to make an end of Time and to judge the living and the dead (n.b. not holding my breath, mind you), but I don't claim to have a scientific basis for that belief, and I don't berate other people for expressing thoughts about the "trajectory" of human history that give short shrift to it. In what way is your future global Communism any less faith-based an eschatology than mine?

I can't answer that without walking you through the argument, which would be extremely time-consuming and grossly off-topic.  I'm afraid ythere is absolutely no evidence for magic, miracles, or divine intervention of any kind.  There is a very large and comprehensive body of archeological evidence showing that societies change over time in synhcronicity with their technical development.  This is, in our time unlike Marx time, so normal that nobody bats an eyelid if you suggest that neolithic people lived rather different lives than ours, in many respects, including the productive relations between individuals.  The real question is why people find such a mundane idea so threatening.

Yes, it is scientific, evidence driven, and specifically rejects moralistic and idealistic arguments.  I don't do "belief", at all, about anything, ever.  Belief is for people who can't be bothered to do research.

Quote
More to the point of the thread, why on earth should Rob listen to your arguments and make any of your suggested changes to his brilliant game, let alone make any apologies for it? Why should he, for example, strip away one bit of the powerfully resonant history

Let me stop you there - you meant to say, "powerfully resonant fiction."  Its not history, that was the point.

Quote
and reduce it to a "model [of] the operation of factionalism...divorced from the notional setting"? If you'd like to make an argument for your understanding of "the evolutionary trajectory...of human society," instead of Rob's understanding, you need to write your own game.
[/quote

I didn't say that he should.  I am indiciating that I too see value and skill in the work that he has done.  While I dispute the context, he can do whatever he wants - after all, given my dependance on material evidence no faulty claim presents much of a threat.  But I did think there was an interesting application for the mechanic, because the mechanic does capture a genuine political process - its just not one that has a great deal to do with revolutions per se.  Mechanically, I liked it a lot and there may be something about the use of coloured dice representing factional allegiances that I will borrow some day.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #25 on: January 13, 2006, 06:15:33 AM »

Gareth, I just told Sydney to give you some space. I expect you to extrapolate and do the same for him. You guys are getting really close to posturing about who's smarter or more scientific or less idealistic - stupid geek bullshit.

Talk to Rob, because he's listening.

Best,
Ron
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #26 on: January 13, 2006, 11:44:17 AM »

Having set out fairly clearly where and why I disagree with Gareth, I'd actually like to return to the point he made with which I do agree: The current draft only primarily the internal dynamics of the "Soviet of Beasts" (i.e. the CPSU leadership) and shortchanges the very real possibility that external threats -- either external to the Farm (USSR) altogether, or within the Farm but external to the Soviet -- may influence events. The current draft, in both mechanics and text, subsumes external threats to the internal dynamic:

Quote from: the current draft
For the Farm, in the General’s mind at least, is beset by enemies without and within....General Mud’s dice represent opposition facing all the PCs—whether it comes from outside enemies, inside traitors, or the General himself.

Now, in the Revolution itself, the game does allow an "all the players lose" result: IF total white dice < total red dice, THEN the Revolution does not yet occur. Frankly, I'd like to see some more teeth to that: e.g., off the top of my head:

Quote from: hypothetical revised draft
If the sum of the Soviet dice does not exceed the sum of the Bourgeois dice, the Revolution has not yet come to pass -- and the Farmer singles out the most obvious trouble-maker for some terrible punishment: The character with the highest total on his Red dice suffers some visible, terrible injury, and the PC's Heart score is permanently and irrevocably reduced by one.

In other words, the same mechanic as the Glue Factory.

More to the larger point, however, there's no "all the players lose" outcome in the post-Revolutionary phase that makes up the bulk of the game -- if you bear in mind the basic Forge principle that "the GM is a player, too." The GM can lose, if the Revolution occurs (and I love making the GM position an object of contention in the game); the non-GM players can all lose, both in the sense of failing to overthrow the GM and in the sense of all going to the Glue Factory three times; but there's no condition in which both the GM and the other players all lose. In short, the Soviet itself can't be overthrown: No external invasion, no internal rebellion or Civil War -- all of which were tremendous factors in real Soviet history, and did a great deal to drive the internal butcheries.

What I'd love to see added is another possible outcome of the combination of White, Black, and Red dice -- something that represents a serious external threat entirely independent of General Mud. I'd especially love it if players were able to choose between (a) actively undermining, or at least withholding support from, General Mud, but at the risk of everyone losing the game due to an external threat, or (b) actively supporting General Mud, even as he sends you off to the Glue Factory, to increase the chances of the play-group as a whole surviving the external threat.

Mechanically, I'm unsure how to implement this. In the current mechanics, as I understand them
1) IF a PC's White + Black + (shared) Red < GM's Black dice, THEN that PC may go to the Glue Factory.
2) IF all PC's Red > all Black (both GM and PC's), THEN the GM may be overthrown.

What I'm looking for is a third condition -- all this is off the top of my head, now -- that's something like
3) IF total of all PC's White dice > total of all PC's Red dice, THEN the game may end.

Say, each time this happens, you put a White Banner on the GM's screen, and when you accumulate, oh, three White Banners, the game ends; everybody loses; and the player with the highest White total on that turn gets to narrate anything from Civil War to Nazi invasion to perestroika.

And then the only way to get rid of a White Banner is to get rid of a Red Banner at the same time: "Our internal differences hardly matter in the face of such a great external threat!" There's no mechanic currently to get rid of a Red Banner (or am I missing it?), but presumably it would involve some mighty act of self-subjugation on the part of the PCs.
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #27 on: January 13, 2006, 12:05:20 PM »

Oh, I just thought of a possible "rally round the leader" mechanic, simply by inverting the current "uprising" mechanic:

Quote from: hypothetical revised draft
If the number of White Banners flying exceeds the number of Black Marks on your character sheet, you may try to unite the Soviet against external enemies by calling for a rally in support of the General... PCs may only join the rally if the number of White Banners flying exceeds the number of Black Marks on their own character sheet. Otherwise, they are seen as too much the toadies of the General for their declaration of support to mean anything.

If a majority of the PCs join the rally—a tie vote is not sufficient—a struggle to unite the people behind General Mud has begun. When the dice are rolled to resolve the turn, compare the sum of all the red Soviet dice on the table to the sum of all the white Bourgeois dice. If the sum of the Soviet dice exceeds the sum of the White dice, the people have rallied behind their leader! Remove one White Banner from the GM's screen -- and remove one Red Banner as well. If the sum of the white dice is greater, the rally fails, but with no further adverse consequence.

If a majority of the PCs do not join the rally at all, it is an embarassing failure that only emphasizes the weakness and division of the Soviet. Add one Red Banner and one White Banner to the GM's screen.

Obviously this is just a notion. But what I like is that it adds a new layer of dilemmas to the game:

"Yes, General Mud sent Comrade Pavel to the Glue Factory -- but look at all the white dice Pavel had been rolling! If more Comrades had begun to follow Pavel's selfish example, we would all be doomed! An example must be made!"

"The General has sent me to the Glue Factory before; he may well send me again -- but today, today I stand with him against the enemies of the Revolution! Comrades, set aside your white dice and join the rally!"

"I know, I know, two White Banners -- the Americans and British landing at Arkangel, the Cossacks burning the countryside. But the General has proven himself the greatest threat to the Revolution of all! Let's strike quickly, overthrow him, and then, under a new and nobler leader, unite against our external enemies!"
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Ramidel
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« Reply #28 on: January 13, 2006, 02:22:00 PM »

Oh, I just thought of a possible "rally round the leader" mechanic, simply by inverting the current "uprising" mechanic:

Quote from: hypothetical revised draft
If the number of White Banners flying exceeds the number of Black Marks on your character sheet, you may try to unite the Soviet against external enemies by calling for a rally in support of the General... PCs may only join the rally if the number of White Banners flying exceeds the number of Black Marks on their own character sheet. Otherwise, they are seen as too much the toadies of the General for their declaration of support to mean anything.

If a majority of the PCs join the rally—a tie vote is not sufficient—a struggle to unite the people behind General Mud has begun. When the dice are rolled to resolve the turn, compare the sum of all the red Soviet dice on the table to the sum of all the white Bourgeois dice. If the sum of the Soviet dice exceeds the sum of the White dice, the people have rallied behind their leader! Remove one White Banner from the GM's screen -- and remove one Red Banner as well. If the sum of the white dice is greater, the rally fails, but with no further adverse consequence.

If a majority of the PCs do not join the rally at all, it is an embarassing failure that only emphasizes the weakness and division of the Soviet. Add one Red Banner and one White Banner to the GM's screen.

Obviously this is just a notion. But what I like is that it adds a new layer of dilemmas to the game:

"Yes, General Mud sent Comrade Pavel to the Glue Factory -- but look at all the white dice Pavel had been rolling! If more Comrades had begun to follow Pavel's selfish example, we would all be doomed! An example must be made!"

"The General has sent me to the Glue Factory before; he may well send me again -- but today, today I stand with him against the enemies of the Revolution! Comrades, set aside your white dice and join the rally!"

"I know, I know, two White Banners -- the Americans and British landing at Arkangel, the Cossacks burning the countryside. But the General has proven himself the greatest threat to the Revolution of all! Let's strike quickly, overthrow him, and then, under a new and nobler leader, unite against our external enemies!"

Might I suggest that a successful uprising remove all Red -and- White banners, going back to square one under a new General Mud?  (This would fit the hypothetical success of the hard-line coup against Gorbachev.)
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