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Author Topic: Playing Alyria  (Read 3517 times)
Ron Edwards
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« on: April 24, 2002, 06:47:42 AM »

Hi,

First of all, wowsers. I love the mechanic; it's a truly non-numeric (albeit graded) Fortune mechanic. The game sits very squarely in the same category as Hero Wars, Orkworld, and Sorcerer, forming, if you will, another "spot" in the constellation these games represent, with a strong dose of The Pool in terms of organizing who gets to narrate. I submit, not very humbly, that acknowledging these games in the text of Alyria would be appropriate, as I know the system was built with them in mind.

Wowsers continues with regard to the players. A minor point is, never underestimate the power of a gimmick. I pulled out my Elmer's Glue moon dice, and several people got whiplash in order to ask about them. I had to beat and pummel folks away. More importantly, and perhaps it's because the players were already familiar with Sorcerer, The Questing Beast (and The Pool), and Soap, they latched onto the narration issues and the storymap context very quickly and easily. The color/setting text that Seth provided in this thread was fully sufficient for us, and they liked the fantasy-Blade Runner combo.

You might be interested in the details ... we opted for a Web vs. law-enforcement scenario, with an attack on one of the Arches being the key event, and a main issue being the conflict between two law-enforcement types (the old captain with some Web contacts and a special Keeper agent sent in to "get things done"). The player-characters ended up being the old captain and a Misbegotten Web member with some electrical-channel abilities. Interestingly, the latter player decided on the Weeping Moon for the character's Virtue, fully acknowledging that the character was a villain (i.e. from the out-of-character POV).

We got a "short story" out of a two-hour session without any problem, including some interesting NPC members of the storymap getting some air time. In fact, both players were very satisfied with the moral decisions that their characters made at the end of the run, and all three of us instantly pegged another member of the storymap as the point of the "new triangle" created by the resolution to the "old triangle" that powered the first session. All of us want to continue with resolving this new conflict.

The following questions arose.

1) There appears to be a crucial reversal-typo in the Quick-Start rules, in the "Roll dice and evaluate results" section. According to this text, one is trying to equal or beat the temporary attribute level. That makes no sense; the better your attribute, the worse your chances. It has to be the opposite - equal to or less than the temporary attribute, or all goes to hell in a handbasket.

2) Do NPCs have Inspiration or Corruption? If not, then the GM should consider making conflicts include several rolls, or else I/C will simply take over the game. (Or rather, inter-PC conflict will be the only type for which rolls matter, which ain't that bad a thought either.)

3) How many Traits can be called in, sequentially, during a single conflict/roll? I active my Trait "idealistic" to ramp up to Full; my opponent activates my "inexperienced" Trait against me to cancel it. Are we done? No more Trait activation? Or do we keep going, potentially until the person with more Traits uses his or her last one? This is a very significant distinction - short-term and long-term game play will be very different depending on which way it's done.

4) Under what circumstances, if any, can Traits not be activated? What if the character is bushwhacked? Does that matter, or are Traits available under all circumstances?

5) When does the player not get to state which attribute applies? When does he or she have to bite the bullet and say, "Yeah, I guess it's Determination (damn)," given that that character has a low Determination. (Yes, I realize that since Attribute levels are set by the player, the player has already committed to playing low-Determination when appropriate, but during play, players sometimes try to wriggle out of that commitment.)

6) If I'm not mistaken, having positive Traits equal to your Attribute is pretty stupid - it's not available for ramping up your own score (i.e. it does nothing). Then again, it's still there for cancelling the opponent's use of Traits, so never mind. I'm wrong, the 1-point-cost for such a Trait is justified.

7) You can tie. Both characters roll successes, and both have the same temporary attribute. What then?

Finally, last comments and recommendations.

I recommend that the moral and personality elements of Traits be emphasized. The players opted for things like "Agile" (and had to get edited) and didn't grasp that negative traits were just as powerful as positive ones, until we got past a couple of rolls.

Correct the dragon-fight examples regarding who gets to narrate. The examples say "we," which not only sounds like the writer has a tapeworm, but fails to convey the actual rule that the player narrates when successful, but the GM narrates when the player fails.

I really like the storymap modification during play using I/C. The players' eyes lit up when they heard about this.

Best,
Ron
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ScarletJester
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« Reply #1 on: April 24, 2002, 10:28:58 AM »

1) There appears to be a crucial reversal-typo in the Quick-Start rules, in the "Roll dice and evaluate results" section. According to this text, one is trying to equal or beat the temporary attribute level. That makes no sense; the better your attribute, the worse your chances. It has to be the opposite - equal to or less than the temporary attribute, or all goes to hell in a handbasket.
You never roll against your own attribute. You roll against the value of your opponents. By raising your own with a positive trait you make it harder for him to succeed. By lowering their attribute with a negative trait you make it harder for them to succeed.
When using people's attributes against them, the allocation who gets the values is reversed. You steal their positive trait values, and force them to use their negative ones.

2) Do NPCs have Inspiration or Corruption? If not, then the GM should consider making conflicts include several rolls, or else I/C will simply take over the game. (Or rather, inter-PC conflict will be the only type for which rolls matter, which ain't that bad a thought either.)
It depends. NPCs that are vital to the plot would have I/C. The hordes of goblins in Moria wouldn't. The power of I/C is directly proportional to how much of it is rewarded during the game. If there is a lot going back and forth it can be used more. Another important thing to know is exactly what I/C is for. However, I/C and traits are the core of the system, so should take over the game. I'll go over it in a big explanation below.

3) How many Traits can be called in, sequentially, during a single conflict/roll? I active my Trait "idealistic" to ramp up to Full; my opponent activates my "inexperienced" Trait against me to cancel it. Are we done? No more Trait activation? Or do we keep going, potentially until the person with more Traits uses his or her last one? This is a very significant distinction - short-term and long-term game play will be very different depending on which way it's done.
Initially the idea was that 1 trait can be activated. However, while playing in my games we've started to change that. If the secondary trait that you want to use fits the situation, then there's no reason why you can't use that too. However, if the initial trait activated by the opposing player to cancel your initial trait would also cancel the secondary trait, then it does so.

An example of this from my Tribe 8 campaign using Lunacy.
Big Rob is playing Jonhur the Chosen and is arguing with Mabb, a crone of Baba-Yaga. He is attempting to convince her that Lilith is the daughter of Joshua and should be granted the status she deserves.
Jonhur has Force (Crescent), Insight (Half), Determination (Crescent)
Mabb has Force (New), Insight (Gibbous), Determination (Half)

Both start off intending to convince the other that they are right, so they both use Insight. Jonhur activates his trait of Zealous (rated at Crescent), to empower his talk with passionate words. This lower Mabb's Insight. Mabb counters with Tribal Authority (rated at Gibbous), which cancels out Jonhur's Trait use.
If Jonhur were now to activate some trait like Pride, it would still be counteered by Mabb's Tribal Authority, so would make no difference. If instead he took Mabb's dismissal of his claims as an extreme insult, he might instead activate his trait of "Dagger of Joshua" (a relic in his possession rated at Crescent) and use it to intimidate her into acceptance. Mabb's Tribal Authority won't save her here, so the new trait is activated. However, Mabb may have another trait herself to activate, which would cancel out the use of the dagger (such as Intimidating Eye of Doom or something :)).

4) Under what circumstances, if any, can Traits not be activated? What if the character is bushwhacked? Does that matter, or are Traits available under all circumstances?
Traits are always available. They can still only be activated when they are actually applicable to the conflict at hand.

5) When does the player not get to state which attribute applies? When does he or she have to bite the bullet and say, "Yeah, I guess it's Determination (damn)," given that that character has a low Determination. (Yes, I realize that since Attribute levels are set by the player, the player has already committed to playing low-Determination when appropriate, but during play, players sometimes try to wriggle out of that commitment.)
Whoever is running the conflict at the time should have final say. I get players all the time trying to bluff why they should be able to use this attribute over that one. If it does sound reasonable, allow them. If not, don't. If one choice is really going to piss on their character concept, then take the other choice.

6) If I'm not mistaken, having positive Traits equal to your Attribute is pretty stupid - it's not available for ramping up your own score (i.e. it does nothing). Then again, it's still there for cancelling the opponent's use of Traits, so never mind. I'm wrong, the 1-point-cost for such a Trait is justified.
I've seen the character's written up for your game and their attribute levels were a LOT higher than those in my game. The rating system I use for attributes is the following:

NEW MOON: Poor - Shows weakness in this area
CRESCENT: Competent - The character would be described as being competent. Default rank for all attributes.
HALF: Excellent - The character is capable of extraordinary feats in the area, even under pressure and time constraints.
GIBBOUS: Extraodinary - The character is just capable of impossible feats in this area. Others can only look on and admire.
FULL: Superhuman - Nothing is impossible. *Nothing*.

Most characters in my game have a highest value of Half moon. The elite have Gibbous. The only way they get access to Full is by activation of traits, or by becoming superhuman. Because of this, all positive traits are useful, and negative traits are always useful at reducing the opponent's primary attribute (which is usually rated at Half). Also, another thing to know is that if one character has even one rank higher than another, he has about a 85% chance of winning the conflict. So being able to alter ranks even by one step is important in the system.

7) You can tie. Both characters roll successes, and both have the same temporary attribute. What then?
Any advantage or disadvantage that you gain in the conflict is countered by an advantage or disadvantage gained by the opposition. Roleplay out the results of the dice roll with nobody gaining an decisive advantage over the other. An example is that you do manage to disarm your opponent, but he manages to roll away from you over the dining table to a weapon stand. This description still enforces your concept as being a great duellist, but doens't give you advantage in the fight.

I recommend that the moral and personality elements of Traits be emphasized. The players opted for things like "Agile" (and had to get edited) and didn't grasp that negative traits were just as powerful as positive ones, until we got past a couple of rolls.
I always describe traits in Alyria as the "major psychological motivators" of your character. In the non-Alyria version of the system we use traits to represent any major element of your character, from psychological motivators, special artefacts or abilities, or any core trait of your character that further defines him within the game. I wouldn't consider "Agile" a suitable Trait unless it represented someone on Daredevil's level of Agility, and the player thought that it was an absolutely vital part of the character concept.

The game sits very squarely in the same category as Hero Wars, Orkworld, and Sorcerer, forming, if you will, another "spot" in the constellation these games represent, with a strong dose of The Pool in terms of organizing who gets to narrate. I submit, not very humbly, that acknowledging these games in the text of Alyria would be appropriate, as I know the system was built with them in mind.
Actually it wasn't written with any of those systems in mind. I still haven't read Orkworld of Sorcerer, and only read Hero Wars at the start of this year. When I did read Hero Wars I did shout out "Oh my god, it's my system with more numbers!". Since I submitted the system to Seth I have expanded the system. After I read Hero Wars I did solidify the idea that Traits represented any important element of your character, not just personality traits, but this stemmed more from wanting to combine all of Theatrix's different attributes into one Trait value, working under one mechanic. The game I thank the most for coming up with the core concept is the Thief computer game, as I originally came up with the system to run that. So I'll respond, slightly more humbly, that acknowledging these games in the text of Alyria wouldn't be appropriate, as I know the system was not built with them in mind. If I ever put the current version up I would definately mention Hero Wars though (even if just to say "you bastard Laws!").

Finally, I wanted to go over the "Lunacy - Fortune at End or Middle?" discussion. We've discussed it on Gaming Outpost when Jurgy raised the same points, so I'll copy the majority of what I said there.

The system is primarily a communication tool, for telling the other players what the primary elements of your character are. The role of Traits is to enforce your vision of your character within the game. They are easily comminicated to whoever has directorial power so he can incorporate them while adjudicating dice rolls. They are also used in the system so that also enforces them. When your Traits get countered out, you're left with I/C to enforce your character concept. Now, let me quickly tell you how I use the system.

The player gives a general statement of intent, you roll the dice to see what the result would be, you then roleplay out the situation abiding by the dice roll. The dice roll simply tells you who gained advantage within the conflict. What is still undetermined is the actual extent of that advantage/disadvantage (did you just disarm your opponent, or outright slay him), and the actual nature of the advantage/disadvantage. These are affected by roleplaying after the dice roll, the spending or I/C points, and even the further activation of traits. The most important thing to do when determing these 2 factors is to enforce the character concepts involved. I always advise people to read the Cinematography section in Theatrix for advice on how to do this. I call this the "Fine Art of Adjudication", and consider the most important skill for anyone with directorial power to have.

For example, let us say that Mabb does use the Baba Yaga Eye of Doom on Jonhur. This will dominate his mind and crush his psyche. They roll and we see that Mabb has gained advantage from the assault. Looking at Mabbs value of "Full" in the Eye trait, and Jonhur's Determination of "Crescent", the adjudicator starts to explain that Jonhur falls to his knees as he feels his mind and thoughts being crushed. Jonhur says that he is spending a point of inspiration. He can use this to lower the level of advantage that the crone gains in the combat. Instead of being crushed, he is instead pushed back slightly stunned. He brings up his dagger...

In this example, I/C work exactly the same as Hero Points in HW. It bumped up a critical failure to a failure. A player could activate one of their Traits to aid Jonhur (such as some kind of Defence trait).
If you hand out a lot of I/C in the game, I would limit its power to changing the extent of advantage/disadvantage gained. If you don't hand out that much, then I would allow it to fully buy successes.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: April 24, 2002, 11:16:06 AM »

Hey,

Thanks for the rules clarifications, including the one that we obviously flubbed (rolling vs. your opponent's temporary attribute, which totally makes sense). Again, this is a great system and the core of what I hope will be a real splash of a game.

The levels of the Attributes, according to my Quick-start packet, are set entirely by the desires of the players, so your Half-moon standard is apparently a local one. We liked more extreme Attributes. To clarify, though, those characters I posted yesterday weren't used in the game; we made up PCs and NPCs from scratch as described in the rules.

As for the Fortune-when issue and so forth, that's fine - I'm sufficiently skilled with the concept to be comfortable with how it's done in Alyria.

Now for the acknowledgment issue. We differ about this on three points.

1) One acknowledges a game which did something first even if you didn't know about it when you did your stuff. Precedent is precedent, and deserves respect.

2) The material in Sorcerer that I referred to, regarding Alyria, is the storymap, which is a modified relationship map. You may not have read Sorcerer, but you do own the PDF of The Sorcerer's Soul. Whether you acquired it before or after the "storymap" material was written for Alyria is unknown to me.

3) Seth posted, multiple times, during discussions of relationship maps and similar things at the Sorcerer forum on GO, that he was taking notes regarding Alyria. Those are a matter of record, and as such acknowledgment seems appropriate.

Frankly, as the owner of the game, these issues are for him to decide, so I won't argue them with you further.

Best,
Ron
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ScarletJester
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« Reply #3 on: April 24, 2002, 11:37:12 AM »

I'm sorry Ron, I was really only referring to the bits I did. Obviously Sorcerer deserves acknowldegement for the storymap concept. I wasn't aware of the first point. I think D&D should be mentioned in a lot more RPGs :\. And obviously with Seth owning the game the final decision is his. I own the whole of the system though, and was commenting on that part.

When your players did their own characters for the game did the attribute levels stay that high?
How long did it take to write up a character in the end? Did your group get it down to under a few minutes?
Did anybody start off with any I/C at character generation?
Did you give out any I/C during the session? If so how much are you using?
Did any of the players give themselves any I/C?
How often where Traits activated?
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: April 24, 2002, 12:34:04 PM »

Hey,

I figured we'd meet on this issue, and thanks for coping with me. It was really hard to decide how to raise it without coming off as bitchy, touchy, or any of it ... I probably failed.

Oh well, back to the real meat.

When your players did their own characters for the game did the attribute levels stay that high?
I don't have the sheets on me right now, but I remember that the Attributes included a couple Gibbous ones, at least one New, and a couple Halfs. I don't remember any Full ones.

How long did it take to write up a character in the end? Did your group get it down to under a few minutes?
H'm, well, the first step is the storymap, which produced (let's see) seven characters of note. Then they picked the ones they wanted to play, and once that got going ... remember, we were all kind of iffy about the procedure, me included ... I can't say it took more than twenty minutes for the characters. Character creation included a lot of in-group dialogue, as everyone was interested.

It strikes me that one of the challenging tasks of the GM is making up the NPCs, i.e., the ones on the storymap that don't get picked to be player-characters. You gotta be quick if you want to be semi-ready by the time the player characters are ready.

Did anybody start off with any I/C at character generation?
One started at 0/0, one started with a point of Inspiration.

Did you give out any I/C during the session? If so how much are you using?
I tried to, but the first set of rolls weren't very, well, ethically interesting. They didn't get more meaty until the final third of the session. I think that as we continue to play, now that the players are committed to the Good/Evil issue for their characters, I/C will fly very thick and fast.

Did any of the players give themselves any I/C?
Yup! Especially during the final scene, which included three or four rolls per character and a wide range of physical and ethical crises.

How often where Traits activated?
Always, every roll. Part of this might be due to the fact that I created pretty challenging NPCs and situations.

(That's a good question - given that Traits can always be used if they apply to the situation, and given that Evil Traits will almost always hose the other guy and Good Traits will almost always help your Attribute, why would you ever not use them, if you could? If not, then not, but I'm curious to see whether I'm missing something.)

Best,
Ron
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GreatWolf
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« Reply #5 on: April 24, 2002, 05:37:55 PM »

Ron,

Looks like Jester has beat me to the punch.  Good explanations from him all around.  I'll just address a few points that have been raised and ask some questions of my own.

Non-Numeric System

Quote

First of all, wowsers. I love the mechanic; it's a truly non-numeric (albeit graded) Fortune mechanic.


First, thank you.  I'm glad you liked it.  I cannot take all the credit, as Jester did the lion's share of system design.  We'd sit around in IRC chat, kicking around ideas, and then he'd email me a document incorporating everything we'd discussed.

I do wonder how many people will agree with you on Alyria's being a non-numeric system.  I bet that many gamers will claim that it is just hiding the numbers under the moon phases.  In one respect they would be right.  Yet I still think that the moon phases are a good idea.  Part of it is the gimmick (see comments below), and part of it is that there is a certain type of person who grasps a picture more easily than a number.  One of my sisters (who is a member of my gaming group) is like this.  The interesting fact is that she is also one of the most intense roleplayers that I know.  Makes one wonder how many potentially great roleplayers are scared off by imposing systems.  But I digress....


The Joy of Moon Dice

Quote

Wowsers continues with regard to the players. A minor point is, never underestimate the power of a gimmick. I pulled out my Elmer's Glue moon dice, and several people got whiplash in order to ask about them. I had to beat and pummel folks away.


I understand the feeling.  When Jester first described to me how to make Moon Dice, I had to make one right away.  I spent the next couple of days looking at it, playing with it, rolling it.... My wife wanted to know if I had fallen in love.

I don't quite know what the attraction is, but there's just something about a Moon Die that draws people.  Or maybe it's just me.


The Session Info

Sounds like a good session, and apparently your players had a lot of fun.  Good for you!

When you have a moment, would you mind posting the character's stats?  I'd be interested in having a look.

I also have a slightly strange request.  I have had a feeling that Alyria is not built for happy endings.  So far, all the endings of my playtests have been bittersweet at best.  I haven't done any railroading, either.  These endings were authored by my players, fair and square.  I'm at a bit of a loss.  My players claim that it is because I put off invisible radiation that makes them not want a happy ending.  I just want to know if it is intrinsic to the setup of the game.  So, if you could let me know how your extended story ends, I'd appreciate it.

I'd also be interested in know how many sessions your story runs.  Mine have tended to wrap up after one session.  An intense session, to be sure, but still it seems a bit short.  Now, it could very well be our setups and not something intrinsic to the system, which is why I ask.


The Rules Questions

As I said, I read over Jester's answers, and I agree with all of them.  I would be interested in any experimentation with his rules suggestion for multiple Trait activation.  It seems like it would work, and I'm definitely going to give it a shot, but I'd be interested in other people's feedback as well.


Giving Credit Where Credit is Due

I will admit that I had not completely thought all of this through yet.  However, I am a firm believer in useful designer's notes in games, which should include things like "This design was influenced by Game X, especially in regards to System Element Y" and so on.  I read an article by someone (I forget who) who noted that the old SPI and Avalon Hill wargames would feature such notes.  The article bemoaned the common lack of such notes in modern games, especially RPGs.  So, I certainly plan on giving credit where credit is due and appropriate head nods.

Sorcerer rates credit.  I've never played the game and only read the Apprentice rules (and skimmed Soul once), but the discussions around the game, especially in the old Gaming Outpost forum, have been helpful.  I can cite a couple of influences from Sorcerer:

--The storymap concept is most definitely inspired by discussions of Ron's relationship map.  There are some differences in terms of implementation, but the commentary and discussion on relationship maps in Sorcerer helped me formulate the storymap concept as it currently stands.

--The minimalist character statistics were drawn in part from reading the Sorcerer rules.  (The other influence was actually Amber, with just a dash of L5R).  Something that struck me about Sorcerer was how it boiled down all non-sorcery skills, traits, and attributes to three numbers (Stamina, Willpower, and Cover).  This focus of design was admirable.  Do we really need a long detailed skill list in a game about the loss of Humanity?  The system puts the focus of the game on sorcery, which is as it should be.  Alyria's system puts the focus on Traits and I/C; in other words, the moral components.  Thus there are no skills and not even formal rules for equipment or special powers.  Such rules would distract from the game focus.  This I also learned in part from Sorcerer.

--A generally positive approach to the use of Out-of-Character information.  Again, I didn't get this directly from Sorcerer but from the discussion that surrounds the game.  Alyria relies on player use of out-of-character information (i.e. Author stance) to propel the game.  Otherwise the game would stall very quickly.

Hero Wars probably deserves just a nod.  This is because, while Hero Wars "got there first", it was not a formative influence on the game.  On the other hand, Alyria does fall into that lineage, and therefore a brief mention would probably be wise.

On the gripping hand, I know next to nothing about The Pool.  I would be willing to remedy this, however.


Running NPCs

I had to laugh when I read this.  Not because of you, Ron, but because of me.  In my Alyria playtests, I've never had to run a major NPC.  All of my major characters have been PCs, so this issue has not raised its head for me.  Actually, my gaming group's style when playing Alyria is for various players to take NPC roles temporarily on an as-needed basis.  So, each player has a primary role as well as covering other roles as needed.  This is probably closer to a troupe-style game than a normal RPG setup, though.  However, I wouldn't expect every gaming group to run like ours, so the concern is valid.

My personal solution to this would be to take the first session as purely a prep session.  Let people kick around ideas, pull together the characters, then assign roles.  Start play the next session.  This allows the Narrator time to pull together the NPCs.  Of course, if your players are antsy, I guess there's no way around diving in and making it up as you go.  Alyria could be very demanding on its Narrators in this way.


Inspiration/Corruption Gains

I would be very interested in feedback on I/C gains during play.  Personally I find that the current guidelines are awfully vague.  I have a general idea as to what they mean, but I am afraid that they do not provide enough structure.  I'm kicking around some more concrete guidelines that would adjust this, which I can send to you, if you like.  Please let me know, as your playtest proceeds, how much of a problem this is.


Weeping Moon Virtue

You noted that one of your characters has Weeping Moon Virtue.  Technically, the rules don't allow for the Weeping Moon to be assigned to a characteristic.  New Moon is the worst/most evil that exists.

However, upon reading this, I have begun to wonder if perhaps the rules should allow for a Weeping Moon Virtue.  Perhaps this could represent a character beyond redemption or something.  To use Star Wars as an example, maybe Vader had a New Moon but the Emperor had a Weeping Moon.  I'll have to chew on it a bit.


Use of Traits

Quote

That's a good question - given that Traits can always be used if they apply to the situation, and given that Evil Traits will almost always hose the other guy and Good Traits will almost always help your Attribute, why would you ever not use them, if you could? If not, then not, but I'm curious to see whether I'm missing something.


No, you're not missing anything.  In general, I actually see the three Attributes as default values to be used when a Trait can't be applied.  The only reason that I can see to avoid using a Trait is that it ought to open the character up to more I/C gains.  Attributes are neutral, while Traits are Good or Evil, and the use of a Trait should tilt a character in one direction or another.

In fact, the primary guideline for I/C gain that I'm considering is an automatic gain of I/C for use of a Trait during the course of play.  Feedback on this idea would be welcome.


In Closing

I think that covers everything.  I'm glad that you enjoyed the game and I'm taking your various suggestions to heart.  As I said before, knowing that you're pulling for this game to succeed helps when reading your critiques and criticism.
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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: April 25, 2002, 08:20:10 AM »

Seth,

I do wonder how many people will agree with you on Alyria's being a non-numeric system. I bet that many gamers will claim that it is just hiding the numbers under the moon phases.

This issue seems to be trickier than I would have thought, given some recent discussions in RPG Theory. Andrew Martin, for instance, seems to consider Fudge less numeric than I do, and Jack Spencer seems to consider all systems to be numeric (or at least quantitative) at some level. I'm kind of in-between. I consider Fudge (as written) to be numeric, because you have to do some adding and subtracting, and the resulting number is used (e.g. damage). However, I consider Alyria to be non-numeric, even though it is graded, because actual math is not employed - one doesn't "count steps down" or ever subtract/add for a value, and changes in the "value" are effected through replacement alone.

When you have a moment, would you mind posting the character's stats? I'd be interested in having a look.

I'll get them from the players and do so.

... I have had a feeling that Alyria is not built for happy endings. So far, all the endings of my playtests have been bittersweet at best. I haven't done any railroading, either. These endings were authored by my players, fair and square. I'm at a bit of a loss. My players claim that it is because I put off invisible radiation that makes them not want a happy ending. I just want to know if it is intrinsic to the setup of the game. So, if you could let me know how your extended story ends, I'd appreciate it.

To clarify, we did do "a full story" in the first session; it set up nicely for a new story later as well, which is why we're pumped to keep playing.

But to answer your question, I suggest that this is a good thing. The whole existence of Good and Evil as viable issues in a story tends to focus people's attention on how hard it is to parse them out in a specific situation.

To clarify: if you present a morally gray world, worthwhile protagonists are those people who manage to draw a Good/Evil line, even if it's only personal and even if the line is drawn in the sand. (Example: Pulp Fiction.) If you present a morally stratified world, worthwhile protagonists are those people who discover the breakdown of the distinction at the personal level. (Example: A Clockwork Orange.)

I'd also be interested in know how many sessions your story runs. Mine have tended to wrap up after one session. An intense session, to be sure, but still it seems a bit short. Now, it could very well be our setups and not something intrinsic to the system, which is why I ask.

I suggest that if you want to try longer ones, then raise a much more difficult conflict, with multiple interests involved, and concentrate more on developing the people in the storymap who are not directly played by players. I have more to say about this below.

As a larger issue, I think that the players' tendency to drive toward endings in playing Alyria is a very, very good thing. It means they (a) want and (b) create real stories. People want resolutions. They want endings. They like them and will create them. When an RPG sets up the bones of a story to be made, and if it does not subvert the Narrativist goal with inappropriate reward systems or mechanics, then the players will drive toward endings like madmen.

So to repeat, the existence of frequent endings in your play is an A#1, Top Sign of the success of the game. However, you might think about what tools or techniques will permit the length of play to be customized differently. I strongly suspect that the kinds/scales of conflicts you and your players are generating, and the way that you are treating NPCs (as a GM), are playing a big role here.

As I said, I read over Jester's answers, and I agree with all of them. I would be interested in any experimentation with his rules suggestion for multiple Trait activation. It seems like it would work, and I'm definitely going to give it a shot, but I'd be interested in other people's feedback as well.

I think this is a serious design consideration, because players are good at justifying the use of Traits. I suspect that if one can activate all of one's Traits that apply, you will get a lot of conflicts in which "the whole character" gets into it, and frankly, all conflicts will start looking the same. Plus, the person with the larger number of Traits will always have the advantage.

Overall, in the interest of promoting diversity and specificity of conflict resolution, I suggest sticking to the one-Trait-only rule. Consider multiple confrontations between two characters - wouldn't it be annoying if each time, both characters used all their Traits? Wouldn't it be better to have each confrontation be customized by permitting only one Trait for each character?

I read an article by someone (I forget who) who noted that the old SPI and Avalon Hill wargames would feature such notes. The article bemoaned the common lack of such notes in modern games, especially RPGs. So, I certainly plan on giving credit where credit is due and appropriate head nods.

Sigh ... this may not have been my article, but I'm on record, in multiple forums or industry mailing lists, for having made this point. So that might have been me.

... In my Alyria playtests, I've never had to run a major NPC. All of my major characters have been PCs, so this issue has not raised its head for me. Actually, my gaming group's style when playing Alyria is for various players to take NPC roles temporarily on an as-needed basis. So, each player has a primary role as well as covering other roles as needed. This is probably closer to a troupe-style game than a normal RPG setup, though. However, I wouldn't expect every gaming group to run like ours, so the concern is valid.

I suggest that this tendency on your part has contributed to the brevity of the stories.

In our group,  the players (who, as I said, are used to games like Soap and The Questing Beast) made free use of many characters in the storymap besides their own characters, and I encouraged this, or would have if they had not done so on their own. However, a couple of the characters became fairly vivid fairly fast via my role-playing of them, and so a certain GM-ownership was established that way.

My personal solution to this would be to take the first session as purely a prep session. Let people kick around ideas, pull together the characters, then assign roles. Start play the next session. This allows the Narrator time to pull together the NPCs. Of course, if your players are antsy, I guess there's no way around diving in and making it up as you go. Alyria could be very demanding on its Narrators in this way.

That's possible. It could also lead to some fair discussion and imagery (e.g. drawings, symbols, etc) prior to play.

I would be very interested in feedback on I/C gains during play. Personally I find that the current guidelines are awfully vague. I have a general idea as to what they mean, but I am afraid that they do not provide enough structure. I'm kicking around some more concrete guidelines that would adjust this, which I can send to you, if you like. Please let me know, as your playtest proceeds, how much of a problem this is.

Again, it has everything to do with articulating the meanings of Good and Evil for all of Alyria play. Once you get this, then the group is able to factor it into the conflict at hand throughout all of the moments and smaller conflicts during the session.

You noted that one of your characters has Weeping Moon Virtue. Technically, the rules don't allow for the Weeping Moon to be assigned to a characteristic. New Moon is the worst/most evil that exists.

I found the rule that states this, but we missed it during the actual character creation section. There is a reason for this. You explain the qualities of a character in the beginning of the Quick-start Rules, but you explain character creation near the end. The New Moon as the lower limit is stated in the former, but not in the latter. Guess which section is being referenced while you make characters?

Interestingly, the woman who played that character acknowledged that she was now playing a villain, and a real villain, not just an antihero. She has not played such characters before, and stated that she really wanted to try it. I think a big part of this is the storymap and the necessary commitment, in Alyria, to taking an author-approach to the game session at hand rather than a be-my-character approach (which often translates to a my-character-is-me approach).

No, you're not missing anything. In general, I actually see the three Attributes as default values to be used when a Trait can't be applied. The only reason that I can see to avoid using a Trait is that it ought to open the character up to more I/C gains. Attributes are neutral, while Traits are Good or Evil, and the use of a Trait should tilt a character in one direction or another.

I see. This makes sense. Except that as I say in the next portion, the degree of that "tilt" needs to be hefty for me to consider an I/C gain. Not every Trait use is sufficient.

In fact, the primary guideline for I/C gain that I'm considering is an automatic gain of I/C for use of a Trait during the course of play. Feedback on this idea would be welcome.

Given that Traits will be used unilaterally throughout nearly all conflict resolution, I suggest that this would be a horrible rule. I/C gain shouldn't be automatic just because you "do" something; the something ought to have a solid Good or  Evil aspect relative to the conflict at hand in order for that to happen.

As I said before, knowing that you're pulling for this game to succeed helps when reading your critiques and criticism.

H'm. This is an interesting comment. I'm not sure why my commitment to the game could be, well, under debate. The whole existence of the Forge, the existence of your own forum, and my time/effort in playing the game would seem to confirm my commitment unequivocally, wouldn't it?

Best,
Ron
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GreatWolf
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« Reply #7 on: April 25, 2002, 08:45:21 AM »

Ron,

Thanks for the response and clarifications.  Your comments on session length in particular were very helpful.

And, no, your commitment is not being debated.  Rather, I was referring to my own emotional response.  Frequently on the Net someone who offers a harsh critique of a game is doing so to be destructive.  "Here's the five reasons why Game X sucks!"  Your comments are intended to be constructive, which is a rarity online.  As such, they are appreciated.
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Seth Ben-Ezra
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« Reply #8 on: April 25, 2002, 10:52:35 AM »

Hi Seth,

Here's one of the characters. He was a kind of police-chief type in an area with a lot of Web activity. Before he was picked as a player-character, we talked about how he exercised a lot of judgment calls about what was and what wasn't a "real problem," to the extent that some might call him corrupt, but others would call him an excellent field/local authority figure.

Grizzly
Virtue Gibbous
Force Half (worn, tired)
Insight Gibbous (veteran in dealing with Web)
Determination Gibbous (Stubborn)

Traits: Jaded Crescent (cost 2), Experienced Gibbous (cost 1), Creative Gibbous (cost 1)

Inspiration 1 / Corruption 1
(He started with Inspiration 1, but he spent it during play and gained 1 of each in the final scene.)

He ended up making a rather dark/scary decision at the very end, including injuring a superior officer and cutting a deal with a Web member (the other player-character). This was especially interesting because the Web activity of the moment was not a Good thing, and the player knew it.

I have a comment about the naming convention as presented in the Quick-start Rules. The players liked it reasonably well, mainly for the same reasons, I think, that Gene Wolfe's naming convention in the Book of the Long Sun worked well. (Seth, it's the same convention.) Personally, I find it a bit too ... well, symbolic, in a kids'-book sort of way. It also strikes me as odd that these people on a totally alien world are using Earth-type animals and so on for naming purposes.

Was this convention sort of an off-the-cuff thing? I'm suspecting that it was, based on the fact that none of the examples use it. Do you use this in play?

Best,
Ron
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« Reply #9 on: April 25, 2002, 01:13:32 PM »

About the naming convention.

I went back and reread what I wrote, and I seem to be guilty of being unclear in my examples, both in the discussion of the naming convention and in my later character examples.

The animal references are merely a coincidence.  The theory is that names should bear some relevance to character exposition.  This could be overt or subtle.  Here are a couple of examples.

In a previous playtest, my sister Gabrielle played a member of the Five Hundred (the elite house guard of one of the High Lords).  This character was particularly ruthless and violent, not above the use of murder to fulfill his own ends.  This character was named Joab, after David's ruthless general in the Bible.

Currently my wife is running a High Lord character.  He is currently a neutral in the ongoing political maneuverings, trying to maintain the dignity of his position and fulfill the responsibilities of his post.  He is a strict man, demanding adherence to the old traditions.  His name is High Lord Strickland.

Many moons ago, Jared cited Chuck Noland from Cast Away.  Jared noted that he was aptly named, because he has "no land".

That is what I would want to see in Alyrian names.  Sometimes it doesn't always come off right.  The two character names used in the examples were not the best choices.  They were actual names used by a couple of players.  I wasn't thrilled with them, but time was pressing and it didn't seem worthwhile at the time to correct them.  I erred in using those names in the rules.  Better examples could have been used.
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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #10 on: April 25, 2002, 01:39:25 PM »

Quote from: GreatWolf
I also have a slightly strange request.  I have had a feeling that Alyria is not built for happy endings.  So far, all the endings of my playtests have been bittersweet at best.  I haven't done any railroading, either.  These endings were authored by my players, fair and square.  I'm at a bit of a loss.  My players claim that it is because I put off invisible radiation that makes them not want a happy ending.  I just want to know if it is intrinsic to the setup of the game.  


How does Blade Runner end? How does any story set in a grey place end. The setting is dictating not only the stories color (in many senses of the word), but their resolution as well. Only in bright fairytale and High Fantasy lands do the characters have relatively bright endings. This is not Alyria. One can only hope to break free of the clouds occasionally for that clear view, and then only for a moment.

Mike
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Blake Hutchins
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« Reply #11 on: April 25, 2002, 04:03:29 PM »

Hi Seth,

Regarding your naming convention, it strikes me that Gibson uses almost exactly what you're talking about in the Sprawl trilogy.  In Neuromancer, it's Case and Molly and Armitage.  In Count Zero, it's Angie and Turner.  I don't recall Mona Lisa Overdrive, but I think the hairdresser-bodyguard had a thematically-resonant name.

Not terribly subtle, but it was fun seeing how Gibson played the symbolic parallel game with his characters' themes, trying to make names that were more than mere identifiers.

Best,

Blake
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Jürgen Mayer
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« Reply #12 on: April 26, 2002, 07:16:49 AM »

Quote
We've discussed it on Gaming Outpost when Jurgy raised the same points,


Hey Jester! Welcome to the Forge.

Quote
It strikes me that one of the challenging tasks of the GM is making up the NPCs, i.e., the ones on the storymap that don't get picked to be player-characters. You gotta be quick if you want to be semi-ready by the time the player characters are ready.


We collaborated on all characters. This takes a little longer, but in the end if every player has contributed something to every character it strengthens the feeling that the resulting story is a group effort.

Quote
I'm wrong, the 1-point-cost for such a Trait is justified.

After talking a bit about this with Seth and Jester, we came to the conclusion that the whole buy-traits-with-points thingy is an unnecessary complication. I just told my players that a character should have about 3 traits, with one of them prolly contradicting their virtue (i.e. frex a good side of an otherwise bad character), and just assign moon phases that seemed appropriate to them. Then just give them 0-3 I/C points to start with.

Quote
Now, it could very well be our setups and not something intrinsic to the system, which is why I ask.


Our setup (infiltrating the Ark to form an alliance with the Named) seems to be suited for several session of play. We'll see.

Quote
Given that Traits will be used unilaterally throughout nearly all conflict resolution, I suggest that this would be a horrible rule. I/C gain shouldn't be automatic just because you "do" something; the something ought to have a solid Good or Evil aspect relative to the conflict at hand in order for that to happen.


I second that. I/C gain only when appropriate.  Make this a reward for moral decisions, not automatic.
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #13 on: April 26, 2002, 07:52:09 AM »

There is a corrollary to the concept that if you allow multiple traits to be used in conflicts that you'll always see them all. Similarly, with such resolution, allowing only one trait per conflict, you tend to see the highest trait a lot. Which is almost more problematic as not only does it make for the same monotony, but facets of the character get ignored altogether.

What this calls for (and not just in Alyria, but also in other games with broad areas of characterization statistics) are rules that encourage the use of lesser traits. One such example is the "Burning descriptors" concept. Once you've used a trait (perhaps only extraordinarily) you cannot use it again for some length of time. This has problems, but delivers the desired effect.

Off the top I can't come up with something suitable for Alyria, but I think such an incentive or restriction could be found.

Mike
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #14 on: April 26, 2002, 08:23:18 AM »

Hi Mike,

Actually, I think that the Alyria system solves the "focus on best trait" problem well. Different opponents or problems permit the following options:

- use your most Evil trait to exploit the other person (this is your "bad" side)
- use the person's most Evil trait against them (this is your weakness)
- use your most Good trait to enhance your performance (this is behaving nobly or bravely or whatever)
- use the person's most Good trait to your advantage (this is taking advantage of their better side)

It all depends on just how you stack up against them, and what their traits are. One foe might have really nasty Evil traits, so your mild Evil trait isn't going to be as effective, compared to exploiting their own, for example.

We got a lot of mileage out of this diversity, and it wasn't a matter of ignoring effective tactics in favor of role-playing. It was a matter of the tactics creating the role-playing, very much in the sense of Sorcerer, The Dying Earth, and Hero Wars.

Best,
Ron
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