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Author Topic: [October’s Shadows] - Reforging Characters, Dogs Derivatives, and more  (Read 2224 times)

Posts: 38

« on: January 09, 2006, 02:02:04 AM »

Revolutionary Politics - The Rough Guide

October’s Shadows is a November Ronnies entrant. I got a runner up award, and we began playtesting this Friday.

The system is based largely on the idea that your character can be changed by losses and partial losses in conflicts. Your successes (books in game terminology) from a cross of War and Dogs in the Vineyard can be used to purchase all sorts of specific effects, but most of them are centered on either changing you or the person you’re in conflict with. Personal change is always a potential stake in other words.

Some notable features of the system are commonalities, comrades, and influences. Commonalities and Comrades work to make conflicts with your friends and people who are similar to you crucial. They add more dice to both sides of the conflict, particularly the initiating one, and thus make it easier to win enough books to make major changes to yourself or others. Influences push Situation and provide a resource for players and the gamemaster. They let all of the participants vote on what’s going to be important in play.

So, How Did It Go?

The first session was based on events around the Sparrow Hills south of Moscow – mainly Moscow University. The Bolshevik battalion captured the university from the junker officers and some debate and more fighting ensued. All the action centered around the physical location of the university.

I started the session with a little pep talk about how the system works and a warning that conflicts could change their character’s personalities against their wills. They were going to have to roll with it if that happened to them. They looked a little non-plussed, but they went with it, and some eyes got a calculating sheen.

The first feature of the system that the players caught onto was that it allowed you to add temporary traits to your character sheet with spare change successes. Get into a conflict after being spotted by enemies? Buy Thief with your spare change from the conflict.

There was only one permanent trait change – a professor NPC lost his faith in Bolshevism thanks to a debate with a Menshevik PC. Lots of people bought Comrades with NPCs and one another. Other conflicts had people go along with foolish plans, run away, and win partial and complete victories in combat.

The Good

Probably the best moment for me was a bang, the first narrative style one I’ve delivered in a good while.

Jeff’s character, an elected Bolshevik officer, was engaging a counter attack by cavalry officer trainees. These junkers were setting up a position behind a faculty building, with a student residence behind it.

Jeff didn’t hesitate.

“Fire the cannons! Break their position!”
-   which allowed him access to all of the Gun influence dice.

“You do know that building is a student residence, right?”
“Ah, it’s probably empty,” with a smile that let me know he knew that was bull.

Another key moment was when I spotted two of the off camera players conducting their own philosophical discussion, both to test out the system, and I suspect to deliberately change one of the character’s ideologies so he can more easily fit into the dynamic of the situation.

The Bad

The worst was when one of the players confronted me with the fact that I seemed to be ignoring several rules. He was right, I had, notably influences, the rules of six and one, and great traits. If there had been any Authority in play, I probably would have fudged that too.

I’m less than sure about any of these features. I think the rules of six and one add insult to the injury of unbeatable rolls. I’ve just been rewriting the influence drawing rules and they look almost exactly like Paul’s post now. In the playtest draft though, they’re impossibly vague. Great Traits was essentially just a misstep, although not a serious one.

And the Ugly

The ugly moment came after the game, when another player told me,

“Ron’s wrong. You should have kept the house. Maybe it’s stupid to confine the characters in a box, but this way nobody’s ever going to interact with each other.”

By nobody, I think he meant his cynical opium addict general and another player’s reliquary stealing monk. It’s a problem, no doubt. Long term, I’ve got plenty of hooks for these characters, but until they bite there’s not much crossing or weaving going on.

Dogs and its Derivatives

October’s Shadows' system was pretty much based on Vincent Baker’s Ars Magica Knockoff, especially the reply by Paul Czege where he talks about mechanics for Mirrors and Touchstones.

So, the system is a Dogs derivative, with much smaller dice pools. Comparison is simultaneous instead of lead and respond, but it’s meant to be the same thing, with escalation and selection of dice from pre-rolled pools.

Here’s the catch: it doesn’t work, at least the way I did it.

As Ron mentioned, with small pools you basically just need to line them up and compare, because there’s not much reason to save the good dice for later. You can think of situations where that’s not true, but overall you don’t know what the situation is going to be. Even if other things were equal it pays to get your books early so you can buy off opposition successes or flee the conflict if things go against you.

So you come back to Sorcerer, with the crucial caveat that a single six on the outnumbered side isn’t going to save you in the end, just buy you a single book (which isn’t even enough to break off conflict).

Even seeing this, I’m pretty comfortable with the dice system – the strategy comes in when you decide to lose conflicts to restructure your character.

Black and White Color

Another thing that worked well was using black and white photographs and old maps for the game. I’m sure this is hardly new to everyone but me, but it worked very well to put faces to names. www.marxists.org has a great selection of portraits and other pictures for any soviet game.

The black and white part was especially good – I’d seen good use of real floor plans for combat before, but the grainy ‘war photo’ tone of the portraits and situation pictures made the whole thing fictional enough to fit into the game.

I’d tried to use color pictures in the past for a modern game without feeling it worked very well.

I didn’t actually ever try to wave around the pictures and say – “you see this!” Instead I just had a stack of printouts that people looked through when it wasn’t their turn. At one point, one of the players grabbed a picture of a street battle and waved it around himself.

Posts: 228

« Reply #1 on: January 10, 2006, 06:05:28 AM »

“Ron’s wrong. You should have kept the house.

I'm confused by this statement.  what house?  Is this a game mechanic term... or an in campaign resource... as in; someone's house?

Black and White Color

I'm a huge believer in the power of the visual to put players AT THAT PLACE, KNOW THAT CHARACTER.  I think making sure that everything was black and white is brilliant, ties completely in with our modern sensiblities of a bygone age.  Because roleplaying is SO much about the NOW... it is hard to do detail quickly.  Writers get to revise their paragraphs of description, artists and photographers spend plenty of manhours to get the image right.  Role players can't wait for that process to happen... the story needs to go on.  A visual can sell as setting and teach info SO fast in mere seconds, it rarely slows a game down and often speeds things up... as well as suggesting things that the players and GM never thought of utilizing in the story... the "hey, look!!!, the street in this photograph is being ripped up by the students, its bricks are being used as missiles against the reluctant militia... my character picks up a brick.".


Posts: 38

« Reply #2 on: January 10, 2006, 04:15:06 PM »

The House

Sorry about the lack of clarity there. Yes. It was a game mechanic house and someone's house. The characters in the Ronnies draft were meant to be thrown together by fate into the same house, where they would interact with each other on a daily basis. It was supposed to be like the bit in Dr. Zhivago where he gets back to his old mansion and all the revolutionaries have moved in. There were certain mechanics in the game that had to do with that.

Both Ron and Nick, the player of the professor character, had the same reaction - why are we being penned in like this? So I cut it out.

The truth is that it seems to be a recurring problem. I tried a Crossing and Weaving heavy game a while ago. The same player had problems with it then. I think he appreciates the feeling that decisions are made as a group and everyone participates to some degree in all the action.


The pictures maybe will work in that mode in the future. Right now they're about drawing people into the time and place of the events. They seemed especially valuable for giving plyers a sense of how to react to NPCs - and to tell them apart when they had unfamiliar names.

I do have hopes that things will work this way in the future, though. Does anyone else have any useful experience here?

How do you think Color can be turned into system?
Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Posts: 16490

« Reply #3 on: January 10, 2006, 05:40:19 PM »


I recognize that saying "Ron's wrong" is a source of rising, warm, inner pleasure, and it's also true that I've been wrong more than once.

In this case, though, it looks to me as if the culprit is not the lack of the house, but a lack of Crossing. Your previous experiences with the person apparently corroborate that.

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