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[Space Rat] Call me Cosmos

Started by Tim Alexander, September 13, 2006, 01:44:46 PM

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Tim Alexander

Hey Guys,

This game really kicks ass. FUN with a capital F - U - N! It seems to have gotten lost in the deluge of Ronnies and somehow even an enthusiastic actual play post from Ron over here didn't get everyone playing. Well do yourselves a favor and get a copy of the rules, along with the above thread and the initial Ronnies feedback thread, and play. Enough pitching, on with the play. Last night Ron and Tim K. came by with a bag of games each; we're between games you see. In light of my recent thread on feeling like a schmuck at the table Ron said, "Tim... this is what you need," as he laid out tSoY, Space Rat, and Trollbabe. I'm an easy pitch for Trollbabe, but we had all played it, and since the three of us always have a stack of games we're interested in trying it seemed one of the others was a better fit. None of us had done tSoY but it sounds like it really shines with longer play and so we begged off of that and settled on Space Rat, one of the Ronnies entries from Nathan Russell. For those of you not yet inclined to brush up on this gem; Space Rat is about the various adventures of Jack Cosmos, a wily adventurer whose derring-do spans numerous pulp novels. Only it's not... 'cuz Jack isn't really all that bright, nor heroic, but he does have one thing going for him: the chicks dig him. More specifically, the "Femme Babes" do, and that's who you're really playing. Unbeknownst to the world at large it's really the babes that do the saving, all in the hopes that Jack might notice them and give them his undivided attention.

Don't tell my wife, but I'm a little in love with my Femme Babe. I mean, Sorena (The Meteor Girl) can fly, and she's got these wicked blaster bangles that shoot these ropey energy rings. Look, between you and me, I don't know what Jack sees in that other hussy. Sure she's strong and all, and she did do a heck of a job repairing the damage caused by the space whale, but I ask you: who battled off the space whale in the first place? That's right, Sorena did. And ok, maybe confronting Dr. Blue all by her lonesome wasn't the smartest play in the book, but what the hell else could she do?!? I mean, obviously Jack's not gay, that woman DID something to him. But I'm getting ahead of myself here... Ron set us on a luxury cruise deep in space and complete with a deck allowing a view out into the abyss while catching some cosmic rays; various lounges, bars, and casinos to while away the hours; and a labyrinth of cabins that the various guests called home during their stay. Evidently spawned in part by the fact that Tim K. had just returned from a cruise, it ended up being a great setting with plenty of options allowing both of the femme babes to shine. An intellectual luminary was on board (the aforementioned Dr. Blue,) and the ship was captained by a curt curmudgeon of a man in Captain Baha. Did you catch that yet? We sure didn't, not even when the space whale first showed up. It wasn't until Baha veered the ship off course to pursue the beast that us Tims figured it out in what seemed to be near unison. Ron looked positively gleeful that Baha had made it past us; a fine moment. This game just rollicks along man, it's really a blast to play. Before doing too much more exposition I want to talk about the neat interactions between Luck, Attention, and the difficulty table.

Basic resolution in the game is handled through the use of a trait which has a given rating (excellent, poor, good, typical) and is then modified by skill, and gear, etc. You check the chart and line up your rating against the opposition and it gives you a difficulty number. Don't be mislead by the chart, it's very non-rolemaster in practice. You then need to roll that number or greater on xd6 where x defaults to 2 but can be as high as 4 depending on gear etc. Now here's the clever thing, rolling really well gets you the "What the?" result, which garners an attention point, and the chart is designed in such a way so that rolling a "What the?" becomes easier as the traits get more impressive. Femme Babes get to really kick ass within their respective strengths, even against kickass opponents, and it turns out that's really important for the game to work, but it also means that there's a lot of motivation to use the other big mechanic: luck. Luck is a metastat allowing all sorts of things like using a skill weirdly, inventing a specialty on the fly, adding another action; basically making the Femme Babe more effective. So the Femme Babes all want Jack's attention, and in fact attention becomes how you advance your babe for later adventures by being spent on skill additions, trait upgrades, and gear. It also determines who at the end of the game will be the one who gains the attentions of Jack, which insured that we were constantly checking the other player's sheet to see who was leading the race. In practice this means you're always looking for the chance to roll high, not just to succeed, but to really knock 'em dead. Luck lets you add effectiveness, but there's a risk: anytime you lose luck the other player can have you "test" your luck. This has a few implications:

1) If you fail the test, the player calling for the test gets a luck back and also gets to describe how your character really blew it.
2) If you succeed the test, you get to describe how you do so in a super nifty way.
3) In neither case do you get the chance to garner attention.

In addition, the way the test works means that at the beginning luck isn't challenged too much until it hits the tipping point around the 50% mark where it gets pretty nasty and you start looking over to find your fellow players gazing greedily at your sheet while you decide whether or not to try and spend a point. As everyone really tops out it slows down again as you realize that screwing the other player almost certainly means retaliation and you probably don't want that sort of thing. Basically, luck is a great mechanic, and it serves as another hook between the players. In play both of us were completely wrapped up in each other's narrative not simply because they were fun to follow, but because the mechanics of the game strongly encouraged it. This is great stuff and I'd bet it works even better with more players.

We'll have to wait until next time to find out exactly how the scenario wraps up, there wasn't quite enough time last night to get all the way through. Poor Sorena took a beating at the hands of Dr. Blue's psychobabble, and so far even the sultry kiss of Septurna (dammit, that's not right... Tim, what's the name again?) hasn't been enough to snap Jack back to his senses. Man, I can't wait to find out what happens.


Ron Edwards


Another home run for the Femme Babe game.

It's fun that we now have Trollbabe, Space Rat, and Best Friends, all of which require player-characters to be female ... I would love to see them sold bundled together as a Chick-Pack, if the former two ever see the light of day in book form.

As usual, it only took a couple of paragraphs from the rules to spark instant character creation. We went through each step as a group for both characters. (Also, I decided that the rules' placement of naming the Femme Babe after the numbers/skills steps should be reversed.)

Tim A produced Sorena the Meteor Girl
Fitness Poor, Reflexes Excellent, Mind Good, Presence Typical
Skills: Acrobatics, Zero-G, Shooting, Survival, Communicate (specialty: telepathy)
Gear: Blaster Bangles (damage, range), Star Flight (movement)

We figured the Flight was gear because it could be taken away in super-hero fashion, like getting blasted by the wrong kind of radiation or whatever

Tim K produced Splenturn the Tough Girl
Fitness Excellent, Reflexes Poor, Mind Typical, Presence Good
Skills: Brawling (specialty: pounding), Awareness, Survival, Perform, Education
Gear: Fists of Steel (x2 damage), Black Hole Bikini (protection x1), Coveralls (prop)

As it turned out, that bikini played almost no role in the scenario and doesn't match the character's visuals (a bikini under coveralls?), so I'm thinkin' to let Tim revise that 100 GP for the next run.

While they went to whip up their Femme Babes' portraits on Hero Machine, I prepped on a single sheet of paper, which is what this post will be about. The name "Dr. Blue" came to mind and I wrote it down with no notion of who that was, and then the image of an attractive lady therapist doctor with sci-fi blue hair materialized, and I scribbled her game mechanics down easily. The next item was the opposite - I thought that one of the most dangerous adversaries for a Femme Babe was a perfectly nice, reasonable, attractive guy who really can offer a normal relationship. Obviously, his name was Russell (hi Nathan!), and making him up was no problem. He turned out to be so effective in play that I'll provide him here:

Fitness Typical, Reflexes Good, Mind Good, Presence Good
Skills: Communicate (specialty: listening), Awareness, Shooting, Piloting, Driving
Gear: gun (damage, ranged), car (movement)

So, where was this to be? Well, Tim K had told me about his family vacation on an ocean cruise in Alaska, and coincidentally I'd just been present while my wife had talked about cruises with her family. So, all right, this would be on a Space Yacht, or more accurately, a Space-Liner cruise ship. I liked that because as with my previous game, I wanted to make sure the Zero-G skill wasn't wasted. The cruise ship idea led to Gamma Men if I wanted to think about attackers, so I wrote them down too. However, none of it quite hung together in my mind even after I figured Dr. Blue was "therapizing" rich tourists as a big scam.

I went and checked in on the Hero Machine action to find them both scarily engaged in Babe visuals, then came back and thought that a cruise ship obviously needed a captain. I rejected the first notion that came to my mind as too obvious, but then thought, why not, and made up Captain Baha, which then necessitated a Space Whale. I thought it was neat to give the captain major gear in the form of the whole ship.

From here, I listed my Bang-ish notions so far:
- counseling/drugging for $
- Gamma Men attack!
- drinking contest with Jack
- captain's obsession
- Jack swipes Russell's car

It really didn't quite hang together yet, for me. I could see funny stuff in all these and had notions about conflicts, but it wasn't as interesting or solid-feeling as the whole Blood Slug Stoor relationship map and the essential Jack-ness of my earlier game. Then I realized: if Dr. Blue gets her therapizing hooks into Jack, confronting his exploitation of women or something like that, then he can't give Attention Stars. Or rather, Stars gained while he's under her influence won't count (although they will if he's cured). Ah! Now I knew where to go with this.

All that satisfied me enough so that making up the Space Whale (including the skill "be big") was fun rather than laborious, as the Whale became less responsible for being a central threat.

The Tims returned with Femme Babe printouts on pink paper and proud smiles, and I smiled back, carnivorously. I'll post more about the action and system later.

Best, Ron

Ron Edwards

The Space Rat rules are a wonder of clarity and intertwined, logical design. Very, very little is accidentally misstated, and even less is unclear or difficult to deal with.

However, since the game has such a well-structured reward mechanic, it's a pain when you remember one piece of it in the wrong place or function. So based on my lessons from play, I made sure to work up the following terms in big letters on a sheet and put it into the middle of the table. I recommend doing so for every game of Space Rat.

Bump up an attribute descriptor by one level (they never do anything else, ever)

Roll 3d6 and keep the highest 2, when using the parent skill in the specialized way

Acquire a briefly-existing Specialty (even without a skill!) and hence the 3d6
(other uses of gear are straightforward, not summarized here)

Instant specialty for an existing skill
Permit a weird use of an existing skill
Restore one Health level
Take an extra action

Regain Luck
Increase difficulty of a roll and succeed
Upon calling for a Test of Luck, if you succeed in forcing the other Femme Babe to fail

Attention Stars (gaining)
Defeat foe
Get a What the? result on a skilled roll
Announce a spectacular action

I also used a printout from the Femme babes rock, I want one thread in order to keep the procedure for Testing Luck error-free, specifically this portion:

Quote1. Ignore the description on page 5 which says "Luck starts at 0." Instead, characters each start with six unmarked Luck starbursts (explosions? zaps?) on their sheets.

2. Follow Luck rules as outlined on p. 15.
3. When a character is required, by another player, to Test her Luck, then she rolls 1d6 and compares to the number of crossed-off Luck zaps. This is very important. It means that the more you use Luck successfully, the more chance you have of failing when Testing your Luck later. This works very well. The text at the bottom right of p. 15 is misleading in this regard.

- subpoint/example: Sam is playing Rina and has marked off two Luck zaps so far. Rina attempts to use her Luck to take an extra action. Sebastian, playing Azorra, requires that Rina Test her Luck. She must roll 1d6 and exceed 2, or she fails.

a) if she (Rina) fails, then Sebastian (not Sam) gets to describe her spectacular failure. Rina does not cross off a Luck zap. Note: Sebastian also gets to erase the cross-off for one of Azorra's Luck zaps, as per p. 16.

b) if she succeeds, then Sam may proceed with the announced action and use of Luck, but does not cross off a Luck zap for Rina. Instead, Sebastian must cross-off a Luck zap from Azorra's sheet.

4. To summarize, if someone forces a Femme Babe to Test Luck, then the Femme Babe is now guaranteed neither to gain or to lose a Luck zap. But the person calling for the Test will either gain or lose one.

So, what happened? Next post.

Ron Edwards

So, what happened?

And finally, what happened. Tim hinted at it a bit, but here's what it was like from my chair.

The first few scenes concerned two conflicts. Jack had disappeared into the crews' steerage bar, really just a crappy metal room with booze and card tables; Splenturn went to find him and ended up failing absymally in trying to impress the thugs who'd rolled Jack for his money. It was a classic fumble moment, based mainly on Tim K rolling rather badly as he tended to throughout the session. I applied the system very harshly, arbitrarily stating that this Abysmal outcome resulted in her actually damaging herself with a shot glass, conking herself on the forehead (she was trying to fake-drink it and toss it over her shoulder).

Before you talk about what a mean GM I am, let me clarify that Splenturn shines in Fitness, but really shouldn't be using her Mind and Reflexes much ... now, Tim K had made it clear that Splenturn fancies herself an intellectual (yes, a cyber-handed butch chick wearing coveralls) and wants to be respected for her mind. So he knew he was playing her off-optimum in resolution terms, and he had a reason. She, uh, did end up clocking the SOB when he tried to grab her. The real problem was dealing with the other thugs who were bearing Jack off down the corridor - all she could see was his boots sticking out of the bag they had him in.

I love GMing Jack Cosmos. I really like to try to keep him just on the edge of perception - seen on screens, just exiting the current scope of attention, or described in terms of an effect he has rather than in terms of "Jack does this or that." The boots sticking out of the bag were perfect, as Splenturn never succeeded actually in getting into the bar, and so knew Jack was there, and then saw the boots. He was present very much as a concern of the scene, but not as NPC-doing things, if you see what I mean.

Meanwhile, Sorena saw that the ship veered off course as she cosmic-ray-bathed ("isn't the Lavender Nebula supposed to be over that way?") and flew up to observe the activities of the bridge. She found Captain Baha acting funny (all hunched over and obsessed-looking) and a crew member apparently locking the turret-lasers right toward her! And of course she failed her Awareness check to see the giant space whale right behind her, which of course is what they were aiming at.

I should explain my enjoyment of the Moby Dick stuff. You see, I thought of it as I prepped, and stuck with the name Captain Baha, but I thought developing it further in that direction would be unspeakably cheesy and cliched, so wasn't really planning it for the scenario. It was mostly there for backup, as I actually was planning on Gamma Men pirates to provide violent adversity. and some unexpected results prior to that clinched it.

I'd already mentioned Captain Baha and described how he'd made a two-grunt speech to the passengers and stumped off. If the players had laughed and pointed at those references, then I'd probably have let the whale stuff be a funny reference throughout, without developing it more. That's why I described the drink in Splenturn's first scene as "space whale whiskey." And they didn't react to that either in terms of references. That's when I decided to have the whale show up right away, and why I was so pleased. What had seemed like a lame-ass backup had become a genuine gag - I hadn't planned for it to do so, so much as saw the pieces for it fall into place. The cosmic-ray sundeck bathing was too good to miss, in terms of the ship going off-course without anyone noticing except the Meteor Girl, and it ended up as a perfect punchline when Sorena was seized by the space whale's tentacles from behind as she acrobatically avoided the shots she thought were fired at her.

I won't continue scene-by-scene in detail. The next hour or so of play included all sorts of things ... zooming down the corridors of the ship and getting lost, rescuing Jack from getting thrown out the airlock, battling more space-whale tentacles as they groped in through the airlock, dealing with Jack boosting Russell's car, and lots more. What matters really is that the players learned how the Luck and Attention Star system worked ... and that they became obsessed with the rivalrous yet heroic mechanics of Femme Babe action.

By the time the space whale had turned to fight and seized onto the ship, the two 'Babes were hot in metagame conflict even though they'd only crossed paths briefly. Tim A was way ahead, as he'd been playing to his character's strengths in Reflexes, Acrobatics, and flight. I pointed out to Tim K that I understood his playing to Splenturns' weaknesses for dramatic effect, but if he wanted, I read out the description of what Fitness was good for.

That was well-timed, and he went to town with strength-based acts ... but the worst roll of the night resulted in Splenturn literally ripping down the ship's mast by accident.

This whole scene was fantastic, actually. I particularly liked the fact that Tim K really groaned when he realized that Splenturn would have to protect his rival from a sneaky energy-harpoon attack by Captain Baha (who was pissed that she'd driven off the whale), or suffer Attention Star loss because Jack dislikes the Femme Babes hurting one another, even by omission. At this point, with the whale gone, the obstreperous captain disarmed, and Jack safe, the first conflicts were concluded.

Fortunately, I'd been uncomfortable enough with a certain amount of screen time for Jack earlier to remove him long enough to cause more trouble. I should explain that ... OK, earlier, Jack stole Russell's car (they hadn't met him yet) and Splenturn had busted out awesome motorcycle moves to keep up with him. I really didn't want to play Jack as a basic NPC right there in any scene, so this aggravated me. I had him pull up outside Dr. Blue's office (yes, I know this is all inside the ship; it's a big ship, OK?), check his watch, and stroll in for his appointment. I wouldn't have minded if Splenturn had gone in to join him, as I had lots of room for Dr. Blue conflict in mind, but as it turned out, Tim K was getting really jealous of Sorena driving off the space whale and had her run up to the sundeck instead.

What all that means is that I was now armed with Jack who'd been subject to the good doctor's tender psychoanalytical mercies for some time and was ready with the Bang of all Bangs. And I didn't want to wait for next session to deliver it.

Jack shows up on the deck as Sorena accepts passengers' accolades and Splenturn looks cross. "I wanted to tell you first," he says. "Dr. Blue has helped me to recover my early memories and to question my exploitation of women. Oh, and I think I'm gay." He plans to announce this to the journalists on board, momentarily. Sorena's response: hit Jack telepathically with good-girl porn images of herself. Splenturn's response: seize Jack and kiss him lustily. They both said the immediate goal was to keep him from making his announcement, but also to snap him out of "it" if at all possible.

I really hit hard with this one: both characters needed to succeed in order to overcome Dr. Blue's mind-control of Jack (which is what this is, really). If only one succeeded, then OK, he'd be stopped from making the announcement, but that's all. As it happened, only one did, Splenturn. Unfortunately Sorena didn't fail badly, 'cause if she had, I would have had her beam the images into her rival's mind instead, but you can't have everything.

This was also a fun scene because Splenturn had been catching up with Attention Stars, such that both characters had about 3 or 4 Luck crossed off, as well as (I think) tied or near-tied at 2-3 Stars. Both players desperately desired to force the other to Test Luck, but they were also terrified of letting Jack persist in his addled state, so this particular time, they didn't interfere with one another's rolls.

So anyway, Jack doesn't make the announcement, but he does head off to his cabin because he is "confused" and "needs to think." The girls each have a final scene ... I finally got to introduce Russell, whom Splenturn dissed very cruelly in my opinion, and Sorena went off to confront Dr. Blue directly. In the latter conflict, our hero at first defied the insidious doctor's attempt to make her question her love for Jack ("it's dysfunctional co-dependence, don't you see?"), but then tried to zap her and ended up with a successful but very ineffective roll.

That permitted me to make up some bad-GM karma from the first scene, when I'd decided to use an Abysmal failure to damage Tim K's character, which as I said, bent the rules a bit. Well, why not do it here? I stated Dr. Blue's new attack as urging Sorena to "take all that hurtful anger" and put it "inside," which I defined basically as Sorena zapping herself. And it worked ... and Sorena ended up failing the defense Absymally, taking maximal damage. Result: KO.

So for the next session, Splenturn is knocking around wondering what to do next, and Sorena is out cold and in Dr. Blue's clutches. According to their sheets, they both have four Luck crossed off and four Attention Stars. However, two of Sorena's and one of Splenturn's Stars were acquired after Jack was therapized, so they are only provisional! Oh no!! What will happen next to Jack Cosmos, Space Rat?

I love this game. Why? Because you can play deluded, silly, co-dependent, low self-esteem 1950s SF bimbos? Is this a sexist exercise of the first water?

Nope, it's not. As I see it, feminist fiction is most powerful when it admits to real problems and concerns as part of life, and when it examines heroism from within that context, rather than demonizing the problems and positing heroines who are completely free of them. I am far more jazzed by a story of a heroic bimbo, who succeeds in doing great things even as she struggles with the bullshit-situation of loving a rat like Jack, than I am by a story of a perfect paragon who never makes a false step in her love life, professional life, political life, or physical life.

I don't go in for idealizing women. Not downplaying them into servants, helpmeets, Madonnas, Whores, trophy wives, and so on ... and neither by up-playing them into perfectly-actualized, sleek, enlightened, breadwinning, and emotionally-unrecognizable imaginary beings. I am disgusted by the modern, schizophrenic Cosmopolitan ideal - eating chocolate covered cherries by the bushel but somehow athletic and thin; allegedly making empowered boyfriend-choices but desperately attempting to control him through sex.

I present this little portrait of my head in order to explain why I like Space Rat. It is far more honest and offers heroism I can understand. It ruthlessly satirizes a common feature of many real women's emotional situation ... and offers the possibility of finding what can be great even from within it.

Best, Ron

Tim C Koppang

I am really looking forward to round two of Space Rat. To be honest, when Ron started to describe the game, I laughed, but I was also unsure about the whole Femme Babe theme. It sounded awfully sexist and campy. When I gave my character the bikini armor for example, I wasn't sure what angle I was going to take with Splenturn. I knew I wanted to make her brawny and beautiful. But I also knew that I wanted to counteract that with her struggle to gain intellectual respect. The bikini, on the other hand, was an out and out cop-out in the direction of eye candy. The coveralls that I gave her were actually a last minute addition that I gave to her in order to cop-out of my original cop-out.

But now, I worry no more. It may still be campy, but it's not sexist. As Ron stated above, you can't help but play a heroic and accomplished Femme Babe. She hopelessly screwed up in her relationship to the rat, but dang if Femme Babes don't kick major butt. In the end, I took Splenturn from someone who in my mind was all bimbo, and turned her into someone rather empowered albeit flawed.

If I have a problem with the game it's in the way you acquire Attention Stars. I'm curious to play the next session, as my complaints may be based on the way I divided my character between something she's really good at but plays down (e.g. she's strong but wants to try to talk her way through problems). First, I felt that in the end when she was earning all of her Attention Stars, she was simply running through a series of rather repetitive brute strength tasks. There was no real effective way for me to garner attention with my weaker attributes. That was kind of a bummer. But with that knowledge going into session two, I may be more satisfied because I'll know what to expect and how to play to the rules. Second, I never really felt any connection between gaining an Attention Star and any overt narration of Jack actually giving his attention to me. This is a concept I'm still unsure about. In my gut, I always wanted to know why or how Jack was giving a bit of attention to me. Instead it felt much more abstract, or perhaps indirect.

Nevertheless, the luck mechanics were wonderfully interesting. The amount of attention I gave to Tim's character was a bit scary in it's competitiveness and jealousy. I positively loved it and want more.

Tim Alexander

Hey Tim,

I decided to run some numbers and figure out just how tough it is to get a "What the?" when you're using the various traits and it looks as follows:

                  2d6    3d6   4d6
Poor              2.7%   7.4%  13.1%
Typical           8.3%  19.9%  32.0%
Good             16.6%  35.6%  52.1%
Excellent        27.8%  52.3%  69.5%
Incredible       41.7%  68.0%  82.7%

Obviously things are pretty well skewed towards your more powerful traits, so it takes more effort to get a shot at the "What the?" with your weaker ones. It basically requires more Luck use, skill use, and specialty use. If you do all of that though, even your weakest trait can have a reasonable (nearly 1/3) chance of resulting in attention. Playing to your secondary traits will routinely net you less attention than someone devoting themselves exclusively to hitting their strong points, but this doesn't seem incongruous to me with the game's thrust, and there's still reasonable chances of getting attention even with your secondary traits when Luck (mechanical, not probabilistic) enters the picture.

I can't remember, did you put mind as your Poor trait, or was it just not your Excellent?


Ron Edwards

Hi Tim A,

Splenturn's Mind is Typical; it's her Reflexes that are Poor. Tim K took a big risk, on purpose, making a brawly character whose "to hit" score is her worst. Splenturn is strong as hell (Fitness = Excellent) and very forceful (Presence = Good). The latter didn't show up against the head thug, because Tim K rolled so badly, but you saw how well she shut down Russell, who was actually a pretty fearsome opponent.

But to me, that makes things kind of interesting ... it means Splenturn is going to have to decide what Fitness-feats to accomplish, probably timing them for maximum Presence. It's true that if she just runs around lifting things like some crazed Olympian, it's not going to get far for Attention Stars. Those only come from rolls, and rolls are only made during relevant conflicts. Tim K's absolutely right that he's pushed the "lift thing" tactic about as far as it could go, because the conflict in whch it was relevant is long over.

But if Tim K can really strategize as a player, then the result will be thematic as hell for the character. On top of the usual Space Rat theme-stuff which we discussed above, Splenturn is looking more and more to me like girls I knew in junior high and early high school: big, strong, constantly recruited for sports, and a little frustrated that everyone only thinks of her as "the tall one." Her heroism is going to have to arise out of her valuing her strengths and applying them in ways that she, herself, can respect.

Tim A's initially got it easier: Ms. Slinky Fly-About is optimized for Attention Stars as long as she sticks to her sphere of talent. The trouble is that talent and niches only take you so far in a game which specializes in multiple, crazy conflicts. Step outside that niche, and wham, something's going to KO you, like it just did. I can see where Tim A's game-decisions are going to come from now ... and it's a neat point of the game too.

See, Jack will never help the girls. The way I play Jack, he can shoot things, say things, do things, and otherwise be active in the game-world and never accomplish anything. (Nathan and I talked about this over email and I think I'm right on his page with this.) The only people the girls can rely on, in terms of accomplishing stuff through rolls, are one another. They basically have to team up. Do they do so only because they both want a clear field at Jack? Or is there a "fruitful void" of friendship to be discovered?

This game is like Best Friends turned inside out ...

Best, Ron

Tim Alexander

Hey Ron,

Yeah, we're on the same page regarding the actual real use of the traits in play. Running the numbers was to assure myself that those non-excellent traits could still result in attention given the right circumstance/conflict/effort. I think the game would border on broken without it because of exactly the sort of dynamics you're talking about. I was thinking about the 'friends' dynamic myself after the game. I have a feeling that given our relative strengths we're going to end up needing to work together in order to take care of Dr. Blue, or risk losing Jack to the mind control. I can't wait to see how it all goes.


Callan S.

Hi Ron,

Quote from: Ron Edwards on September 15, 2006, 09:57:48 AMBefore you talk about what a mean GM I am, let me clarify that Splenturn shines in Fitness, but really shouldn't be using her Mind and Reflexes much ... now, Tim K had made it clear that Splenturn fancies herself an intellectual (yes, a cyber-handed butch chick wearing coveralls) and wants to be respected for her mind. So he knew he was playing her off-optimum in resolution terms, and he had a reason.
As usual I home in on just one thing (at a time), but: I'm rather struck by the capes rules and how, if you play off optimal, you'll just suffer. Including if you want your character to fail at something "Damn, I just lost that goal and someones narrating my characters success! Nooo! I wish I'd done better at the system so my character could fail!". Here, a similar desire is there, but to get it the players playing the system badly/off optimal, where in capes you'd have to play the system well for your PC to have a good shot at failing. What was system was the player reaching for to enable him in this case? Yeah, pretty open ended question so let it sit if need be.
Philosopher Gamer

Ron Edwards

Hi Callan,

Well, you're boggling me again ... for one thing, Space Rat is absolutely nothing like Capes, so I don't really even see how to compare approaches to playing them.

Now wait - I do see your question: how can I enjoy playing a character off-optimal, both in terms of my fun and in terms of her possible eventual triumph? Is there a meta-system in place that I can strategize with?

The answer is pretty easy - it all has to do with the whole SIS, not just System. The current situation in-play is a perfect example - yes, Sorena gained more Attention Stars by being Ms. Optimal in the early part of the game, but now, she's KO'd and in Dr. Blue's clutches because she got cocky and got into a situation where acrobatic flying and bolt-shooting didn't help her. Whereas Splenturn, who failed a lot early in play, and struggled to catch up on Attention Stars later (and did so, I emphasize), is now the one who's best poised to save the day.

So my conclusion is that there's nothing "off" or "wrong" going on. This is the normal interaction of System (resolution, reward, failure, success) with Situation (outcomes of conflicts, emergence of new ones, basis for scene-framing). Space Rat fires on jet-engines for this interaction, especially in terms of not simply finding an optimal strategy and sticking with it. One must interact imaginatively with Situation, not just count the points in System; they go together hand-in-hand, which is what I've always meant by "System Does Matter."

Best, Ron

Callan S.

I think what I'm refering to is where player A intends to block player B from getting (exactly) what they want, because it profits player A in some way. That can show up in any roleplay game of course, capes or space rat.

I don't think the SIS can be used exclusively resolve such an issue, it needs equally meta rules (meta like "It's Tim's turn now, not yours"). The SIS can still be involved in resolution, but meta rules need to be there as well (like the turn order example), as were resolving player vs player, not SIS stuff Vs SIS stuff.

I'm sort of thinking that here the stats are such a meta game device, to enable the resolution of player Vs player conflict. But if their being played sub optimally, it sounds like they aren't seen as a PVP resolution system. What is? What would they reach for? Or does 'player A intends to blocks player B' not really come up in space rat by the nature of the game (if so, that's cool).
Philosopher Gamer

Tim Alexander

Hey Callan,

Boy, I was sort of missing you with the first question, but now I see what you're after. In Space Rat the Luck rules are what provides that meta interaction in conjunction with the SIS considerations Ron is talking about. In our game, it was as much finding myself in situations which lent themselves to optimization, as any specific intent to play optimally. Namely, a combat on the deck of the ship where the Meteor Girl's acrobatics and flight make for easy draws. As play went on those situations weren't as readily available, and so I was forced to make do with less than my best traits. This is why luck ends up playing such a big role:

a) You're not always in situations where you can maximize your strengths
b) You'd almost always like a shot at getting attention

The luck rules allow exactly the sort of meta confounding of another player's actions through the "test your luck" mechanic. I actually took some amount of risk to whack Tim K's character early on with that (though he was able to turn it around and gain attention in the followup, cheeky bastard.) All that said, I wouldn't call our game gamist in practice, there's just a fair amount of strategizing amidst the otherwise narrativist thrust. I would guess that Space Rat would end up being pretty unsatisfying played purely for competition.


Callan S.

Gotcha. I wouldn't call the stats the resolution system myself - more like a method of preparing for resolution (which is the luck mechanic, including if if it isn't deployed by an opposing player). Kind of like a curve ball - sending the ball in the apparently wrong direction/sub optimal play, in the attempt for it to correct surprisingly mid flight and get past the bat/luck mechanic/point of resolution. The SIS is key in that correction.

You'll have to forgive my probe - even before coming here I spent a few years looking at each game that'd show up at my game store - but they'd all have a bunch of renamed stats and I'd think "why's that going to get at anything different from the games I have now? Why would a stat called 'greymatter' make a game funny/different, for example, as opposed to 'IQ'?". I think that any difference only comes with rules that start where the SC starts and travel all the way right in to the point of exploration. Don't get me wrong, stats make a difference, but I think they need to be attached to such rules, otherwise they don't reach the exploration point to have an effect on it. Anyway, enough rambling from me.
Philosopher Gamer