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Author Topic: [Illumination] Gangs of Rio de Janeiro  (Read 3486 times)
Filip Luszczyk

Posts: 746


« on: December 29, 2006, 11:49:33 AM »

The third playtest, and the first online one (via Skype). Nearly four hours of play, including around 1.5h of prep and explaining stuff, plus an hour or so of post-play talk.

This was another one on one session, and it confirms that there is not much difference in how the system works one on one (there is not much use of the fanmail mechanic and resource balance seems more even, but that's all). The player was Kamil, with whom I've been playing online from  the last summer – he is into Forge-ish stuff and describes himself as a narrativist. He commented that the game required a kind of a mental shift from him, as it was in the middle of the session when he figured out he won't get too far without some heavy strategizing. He also said that he wouldn't be able to run the game himself on the basis of the mechanics alone. Nevertheless, he seemed to enjoy the session after he got himself into the proper mindset – and after the game concluded that the system is in fact pretty easy despite the starting rules overload.

I think this affirms that the game facilitates gamist mode of play. On the other hand, there certainly is some entry level, as in previous playtests I had players accustomed to much more complicated RPG mechanics, CCGs and board games, and they didn't experience much problems with grokking the mechanics.

I had hopes for a more cinematic game this time, but it came out rather gritty. Although I aim for a pulpy weirdness and an atmosphere more resembling old Mage, both this and the previous playtests produced something more in line with the New WoD. Kamil commented that it would be good to have a bit more formalized social contract in the genre expectations area. This may be slightly connected with the fact I don't have the setting written down yet. Still, this is a game in which basically anything could be possible. I want the setting itself to be fragmentary, a collection of people, places and event descriptions that sometimes contradict themselves – so that the group was forced to choose only those ideas that interest it, and fill out the blanks as needed. But stressing the need for discussing the game before it starts and maybe adding genre dials (like cinematic-gritty, light-serious, pulp-mundane, amount of weirdness and over-the-topness etc.) sure seems a good idea. It should help in narrowing the multitude of possibilities into the game the group wants.

There weren't many mechanical issues this time (mainly problems with the new Vision rules), but some “driving instructions” level issues were encountered.

New Vision rules

Whereas up till now the Vision was purely descriptive, and it was used only to validate whether a shaping effect can be attempted at all, this time I had an additional layer of mechanics for the paradigm prepared. I tied it to the Stats, as I decided that Stats advancement is not needed after all (actually, I've been pondering getting rid of Stats altogether, but the new idea of Vision created some place for retaining Stat variance).

Players create the Vision by defining Beliefs in a number of categories. A Belief is a single fact
the character believes in. Each Belief belongs to one of the following categories:

-Reality: hidden facts about the world. (“There are angels in the web.”; “The world is a Sephirotic Server.”)
-Shaping: theories explaining the shaping and Peril. (“One can program the angels to do his bidding.”; “Too complex scripts can crash the system.”)
-Self: how does the character explain his or her Illumination? (“God spoke to me from my burning computer screen.”; “I am chosen to lead the faithful in an Exodus to a Promised Server.”)
-Others: ideas about the other Illuminated. (“Other skilled programmers can also command the angels.”; “The Organization monopolies the web and therefore is the enemy of God”)
-Otherside: theories concerning the Otherside. (“There are different Sephirotic Servers out there.”; “Access to Sephirotic Servers is password protected.”)
-Fallacies: flaws in the character’s reasoning that can make some things impossible to explain or can cause trouble. All Beliefs are fundamentally delusions, but Fallacies are either weak or dangerous ones. (“Scripting requires a computer with a working network connection.”; “There is no solidity, as everything is just a line of divine code.”)

During the game, Beliefs can or must be added, removed or changed depending on some triggers (e.g. experiences that clash with or completely contradict the Vision, being exposed to the Vision of another, developing shaping new powers etc.). Also, if the Belief is validated or proven false by the events, it causes Stat values shift (e.g. undermining the Belief transfers one level of Confidence to Doubt, and then proving some Belief is false transfers it to Illumination; Doubt does nothing apart from holding the Stat levels and making them useless). Each Belief can affect Stats only once per session.

I set the starting number of Beliefs at 7, requiring at least one Shaping Belief and one Fallacy. It turned out it's way too much to track, though. We didn't remember all the individual Beliefs in play, and browsing long list was unwieldy. With three players, that would be 21 starting Beliefs to remember, and the number would be growing later. I think that instead of having the whole paradigm described by individual Beliefs, I'll change it to a small number of key axioms that are underlying to the Vision. I'll probably set their starting number at 3 and maximum at 7. I'm also not sure about the categories themselves, as currently they only help to outline the elements of Vision and have no mechanical meaning (and giving them mechanical meaning would complicate the mechanics needlessly). I need to provide some guiding questions anyway, like the last time.

Although I generally like the general concept, and Kamil liked it, the first time Vision worked mechanically in play it became obvious I need to make some changes. I assumed that events that mess with the Vision will affect Stats “automatically”, but it became problematic because of the constant need to remember about this. Instead, I decided to make it possible for both players and the Reality Master to “activate” Beliefs as a choice, with the requirement of a proper situation. This worked out pretty well.

I'm pondering tying Vision to some Development awards, but I'm not so sure about it – that would give the Vision more strategic meaning than I want it to have. Also, it's possible there could be a bit more Stat points, as they don't seem to be extremely important in play. One additional thing I'm wondering about is giving players an option to reduce the Wall (GM's Stat) if they manage to convince the Blind about their paradigms (another option that would give the Beliefs some tactical use, but at the same time it would increase its importance and allow for a bit more variance in currency levels; also, it would be well justified by the Illumination's metaphysics).

Character creation

Kamil created Albert Nativo, a voodoo priest leading a gang of worshippers.

-Reality: “The world of spirits affects the material world”; “There is always some spiritual or magical power behind leadership”
-Shaping: “Loa can possess people”; “Loa can be pleased with ritual sacrifices”; added in play: “Loa can stand behind the Christianity”
-Self: “I'm a voodoo priest, an intermediary between people and Loa”
-Otherside: “There is the world of spirits”
-Fallacies: “Actions of a possessed are justified since Loa is in control” (in fact, whoever causes the possession is in control, and if it would be an effect of his own shaping, he would be only convincing himself that it's not his fault)

(well, as I look at it now, there really was no need to write down all of these Beliefs)

Substances: Humans, Animals

-Method of Directing 1 (control of Substances), improved to 2 (simple triggering of the effect) in play
-Method of Knowing 2 (can enter Otherside, detect and analyze Substances) – Kamil didn't travel to the Otherside at all, maybe I forgot to explain that he could.
-Method of Reaching 1 (can affect everything in the area with shaping)
-Method of Unmaking 1 (can weaken Substances)

Ideals (from highest to lowest priority):
A – Power (leadership) 3
B – Community 3
C – Knowledge 3

Traits: Sly 2 (improved to 3 in play), Shooting 1
Lenses: Rituals 3, Veves (voodoo signs or something) 1, Voodoo Rod 1
Ties: Worshippers (gang) 3 (improved to 4 in play), An Enemy (El Commendante) 2, Loa 2 (improved to 3 in play)

Confidence 4
Illumination 3
(shifted to 5/2 in play, as the delusions of his paradigm got confirmed)

In play, the character turned out to be one mean motherfucker. Speaking euphemistically.

Reality prep

I proposed some tropical islands or a big city for a setting, and we winded up setting the game in Rio, during the carnival, with the slums as Nativo's base of operations. I created the following Trials (from highest to lowest priority):

A – the culling of local gangs 3 (tied to Community)
B – the Church converts local pagans 3 (tied to Power)
C – a dark aura in the mountains 3 (tied to Knowledge)

From 15 points in my Reality Pool I spent 12 on the Aspects (leaving 3 – according to my new rule, the maximum number of starting free points is 3 per player). I bought the following Aspects:

A Nazi Machine 3, Ninja Nazi 2, El Commendante 3, Soldiers 2, Padre Pedro 3.

(Later in play I've spent the remaining 3 points to buy Carnival 1 and a rival “Vampires” Gang 2; also, I improved El Commendante and Padre Pedro by one level each, spending Development gained; at the end of the session, both Ninja Nazi and Soldiers were lowered to 0 by damage)

There were no objections from Kamil when I presented the contents of the Reality sheet to him, but later in the game, during a ninja attack, it occurred to him that he wasn't in the mood for so pulpish game. He also asked what would happen if he decided to ignore all the Trials. Well, I intended the Trials to be tied to the character’s Ideals, so that they couldn't be easily ignored. Also, they actually pose active threats, as they rise if players have an opportunity to stop the situation from worsening but fail, eventually being tragically resolved. In short, if the characters don't come to the Trials, the Trials will come to the characters was the assumption. It seems the problem lies in group's expectations, and the Trials should be discussed with the players just like the genre specifics, so that it was sure everyone is interested in getting involved in the issues.

Filip Luszczyk

Posts: 746


« Reply #1 on: December 29, 2006, 11:50:10 AM »

The game

I remade the session's structure, divorcing mechanical units of play from scene framing, and it worked rather well. We did only three Events, but this time I had no feeling of the scenes dragging. This is connected with me sticking to the conflict resolution this time, without that whole task resolution confusion I had in the previous playtests. Now, Events are initiated whenever there is a challenge that could have some significant consequences, they have explicit stakes and continue till anyone is interested in declaring more challenges that can change the situation (or until the stakes become impossible to achieve). Then, resources are generated and fanmail is awarded. Basically, I added kind of an expanded conflict resolution. I had some worries with the slightly loose nature of stakes in Events, but it worked out fine thus far.

As for the story, Kamil immediately started to strive aggressively for more power in the slums. He cleaned the area from government rats, having them attacked and devoured by animals (I liked the idea enough to zero bid it), and led his people to get rid of rival “Vampires” gang (which I've immediately bought as an Aspect). Streets emptied before their procession, but they encountered Padre Pedro, who tried to calm them and convince them violence solves nothing. As he called the power of God, we did a shaping contest and it finished with me imposing a Condition “no one will be killed”, lasting till the end of Event. They marched into the “Vampires” turf anyway and encountered an armed resistance, but beat the hell out of the poor goth kids ^^ Nativo used shaping to force their leader to self-humiliate, and this practically solved everything. Nevertheless, I didn't close the Event yet, deciding the gang was allied with and supplied by the Nazis and surprising Kamil with a ninja attack. The first challenge resulted in a little impasse and Nativo's gang surrounded in their hideout, but in the next challenge Kamil managed to talk them out of the attack. I gave him an Inspiration (formerly, Stars, formerly Story Tokens, formerly an unspecified fanmail reward) for taking a cell phone from one of the ninjas and calling their superior. I decided I have no interest in further prolonging the Event, as this was enough for Nativo to get some mean reputation among local gangs. He lowered the culling Trial to two, as he gained more power to oppose the soldiers in the area.

Next, Nativo decided to get rid of El Commendante's death squads in the area (we established before that Nativo humiliated him in the past, and was hunted by him from then on). Along with his gang, he surrounded a patrol, used shaping to force the soldiers to commit a group suicide, left the bodies under his hated enemy's nose (also leaving a videotape with the event) and went to the carnival, making quite a mess with his people. Seeing the tape, El Commendante forced his soldiers at a gunpoint to go after him, and blocked the gang's march through the city. As his soldiers were too afraid of Nativo (Aspect damaged to zero), El Commendante stood in the middle of the street and called him to a fight. Nativo ordered his men to open fire, and they covered the street with like a tone of the bullet shells. Too bad El Commendante was Illuminated and strongly believed the bullets won't hit him – when the dust fell down, he still stood there, only with a scratch on his cheek and a cigar in his mouth. Nativo lost a level of Community Ideal and gained a level of Power after hiding behind his men. El Commendante wanted to discuss this like men (with guns), but Nativo used shaping to emotionally break the enemy and leave him humiliated before the soldiers. Since Kamil was low on the resources, he unloaded his accumulated Peril to succeed and let the Loa possess Nativo. I closed the Event, losing another level of the culling Trial and concluded that the possessed character disappears in the night.

The next scene I framed in a brothel's room, with Nativo covered in blood of a massacred prostitute. Oopsie. Kamil eliminated potential witnesses, disposed of the bodies, bribed brothel's owner too keep shut and left.* He went to the nearest policeman, still covered in blood, and demanded to be taken to El Commendante. So they drived and as Nativo was trying to have a nice small talk with the intimidated cop, the car hit some kid. Nativo told the cop not to stop, but he changed his mind when he noticed Padre Pedro in the mirror, coming to the messed up body and blatantly resurrecting the kid. Kamil added “Loa are behind Christianity” Belief at this point and, worried about the witnesses of the miracle being converted into faithful Christians, he came to the priest and challenged him to prove his faith. We winded up with an impasse, and the crowd dispersed unconvinced in both points of view. Then, a limo with some Church official drove in and Nativo became a witness of priest's arguing about converting local pagans. He tried to humble the priests by compelling people in the area to start an orgy, but he failed, and winded up affecting local animals instead as I sadistically evoked his Peril. And so, he came back to his hideout followed by a procession of turned on cats and dogs, I improved the Church's Trial to level four and we wrapped things up since it was late.

*The funny thing is, however I think about it I'm perfectly sure now that he set the room on fire before proceeding to bribe the owner. Hmm.. ^^


I am bothered by the Development rules. Currently, every challenge produces some Development points for both sides (an amount equal to the opposition's Aspect plus bid). These are not large amounts, usually around 5-10 points, but they accumulate. In comparison, any change in Ideals/Trials gives 25, 50 or 100 points, depending on the priority, and Revelation gives 300 points (it requires some Development investments, though, and effectively produces 100 points of net gain). Every Inspiration gained was worth 10 Development before, but I removed the Development award for inspirations as they are big enough reward in themselves. Improving something costs 50 and sometimes 100 Development.

Now, the problem is, awarding Development in the middle of a challenge kind of breaks the pace (people need to note down some stuff), and waiting till the end of a challenge results in forgetting the exact bids (as the final total can be modified by Conditions, Ideals and Peril). Also, Development award for opposition's bids was supposed to provide reason for not bidding too high unless it's really important – but in fact, I rarely ever paid any attention to it. As I talked with Michal (who took part in the previous playtest) today, he admitted the same.

I'm considering getting rid of the challenge awards (apart from zero-bid awards), or awarding a fixed value per challenge. At the same time, I could lower the numbers in general to make them more easily manageable (e.g. by dividing everything by 5), and award, say, 2 points for winning a challenge, 1 point for losing, and an amount equal to the bid if the other side made a zero-bid. Also, I'm wondering about having some Development awards tied to the new Vision rules.

I'm also thinking about increasing the damage values, as Aspects barely ever fall down (and they were supposed to). I already reworked Impact effects, and although Conditions seem to work fine now, damage is still not severe enough.


Posts: 41

nerd with an attitude

« Reply #2 on: December 29, 2006, 12:57:25 PM »

I was the player in the playtest.

1. Gritty/pulpy/weird issues. Though I usually run and play pulpy games I'm also a big fan of noir
and hardboiled detective stories. I think that was clash  between expectations about. Also I chose
the safe character concept - I know something about voodoo/santeria so I could easily answer
questions about vision. I wanted to keep it safe during play in someway so maybe that was another
reason for objecting the pulp element of the game.

2. Driving instructions were needed because of one simple thing - I haven't read game
before play and had to learn it during session.

3. Otherside - yes, I completely forgot about it.

4. I usually have problems with antagonistic/more gamist aproach when I gm and this would be
biggest difficulty for me to overcome when running this game. When I was asking about trials
I wanted rather to reassure I understand goal and boundaries of the game(if I played it right, in a way).

5. Bribing the old man was an afterthought. I set brothel's room on fire first.

6. Aggresive start - I wanted to test the system how it comes in practice. Also the first scene didn't
have any challenge which surprised me a little as a diffferent from my way of gming(I usually start
with some explosion for players). Then I went with obvious direction for Nativo - how to get more power
which didn't have anything to do with trials. That's where the my questions about trials come from.

7. Development - there were some problems with counting all the development points for me as a player.
Partly because of it was Skype game and my character sheet was a mess enough wiithout overwriting
develepment again and again.

kamil wegrzynowicz   
Spooky Fanboy

Posts: 585

« Reply #3 on: December 29, 2006, 01:28:14 PM »

I like how the adversity level is controlled, but still flexible.

I like the idea of rewards, but I agree that smaller numbers would be better. As for bids, make sure everyone writes them down, and then do rewards based on the bid.

I think you'll get weird, over-the-top games if you get weird, over-the-top players involved. Having "dials" for the game is a good idea.

I think you might want to use "synergy rolls" like they have in Sorcerer. That way, mundane stats can boost the potential for success of Illumination rolls.  And vice-versa.

I'm curious: how are you doing damage in this game?

Proudly having no idea what he's doing since 1970!
Filip Luszczyk

Posts: 746


« Reply #4 on: December 29, 2006, 02:30:08 PM »


(I probably should welcome you on the Forge and all, heh ;) )

I wanted to keep it safe during play in someway so maybe that was another reason for objecting the pulp element of the game.

"Keep it safe" in what way? Could you elaborate?

2. Driving instructions were needed because of one simple thing - I haven't read game before play and had to learn it during session.

Well, yes, that's for sure. In my post I'm rather thinking about "driving instructions" in the text, for people who don't have me as a GM ;)

6. Aggresive start - I wanted to test the system how it comes in practice. Also the first scene didn't have any challenge which surprised me a little as a diffferent from my way of gming(I usually start
with some explosion for players).

Yes, I usually reserve the very beginning of the game for "getting a feel" of the characters - I tossed you some suggestions about that "evil aura in the mountains", and I had a challenge or two in mind. I think I kind of expected to see your character doing some "typical in-character activities" first, like, dunno, talking to one of his underlings or to locals, going on a walk or something. Your aggressive start made things simple, as I immediately had some course of action to which I could relate the Trials (hence the meeting with Padre Pedro).

7. Development - there were some problems with counting all the development points for me as a player.

And for me as the GM, too. After three sessions it seems bothersome, especially this break of pace for scribbling stuff. Even with my tracking board idea, this would be a bother due to high numbers (so I'm pondering divorcing the award from the bid value). On the other hand, Michal didn't seem to be bothered by this when I enquired him about it today.

Spooky Fanboy,

The system overview is here (along with the metaphysical gibberish introduction that I should probably completely rewrite ;) ).

I think you'll get weird, over-the-top games if you get weird, over-the-top players involved.

And this reminds me about the first playtest, in which the player created a teenage "superhero dhampyre" - and the player was much more into over-the-topness of Anime and Exalted-ish games than most people I know. Stunts like, coming from behind a corner with a katana that wasn't there before on the back, stoping enemy bullets by shooting them, running on the walls and stuff ;)

I think you might want to use "synergy rolls" like they have in Sorcerer. That way, mundane stats can boost the potential for success of Illumination rolls.  And vice-versa.

The game is diceless and uses secret bidding. Players bid tokens from one of their two pools, depending on the approach. Vim (generated by Confidence) is used in mundane contests, and when pure luck and coincidence are involved, Light (generated by Illumination) is used in shaping challenges. The Reality Master bids tokens from the Shadow pool (generated by the Wall), trying to make the character doubt his or her success (things believed happen, so lack of conviction leads to failure). One relevant Aspect can be added to the bid, and then some other things can modify it.

Basically, it is possible to use any relevant Aspect regardless of the type of tokens used. So it is possible to boost mundane Traits with shaping. Lenses/foci are generally relevant to shaping, so the other way is less likely. Ties/relationships can also be used in both types of challenges.

Tokens from different pools can't be mixed, though - and this would defeat the purpose of having two pools ;)

(Just for the record, starting Vim and Light are equal to 3 x Stat, starting Shadow is 5 x the Wall, and the value of Stats/Wall is added to the pools after every Event; Wall is currently equal to 4 per player, Stats add up to 7)

I'm curious: how are you doing damage in this game?

Damage is abstract and results in lowering Aspects. Whatever is represented by the Aspect is protected from being completely eliminated from play as long as it has at least one undamaged level connected. Damage is recovered at the end of the session, or in effect of challenges.

Damage is one of the possible Impact effects of a challenge. After every challenge, the winner can choose one Impact effect, depending on the difference in totals. This includes dealing/recovering damage, imposing/removing Conditions, reducing Peril (a Paradox equivalent) or generating some resources.

It is difficult to damage Aspect that wasn't used in the challenge. Generally, I wanted the choice of Aspect to have a strategic importance, so that it wouldn't always pay to use the highest one (and I wanted some additional characterization as well as some place for development, so there needs to be space for many Aspects). For now, damage is rare and I mostly see GM's Aspects damaged.

I could simply make the damage value equal to the Impact, but that would be too unpredictable and potentially way too much. Currently it's 1 point at Impact 3+, 2 points at Impact 5+ or 3 points at level 7+ (every serious mechanical effect requires at least Impact 3+, as this is in addition to achieving the story goal). In the first playtest, it was 1 dmg at 3+ and 3 dmg at 5+, and then I felt damage is too severe. But now I see that 1 dmg at 3+, 3 dmg at 5+ and 5 dmg at 7+ could work well.

Also, I think I could rename damage to some more abstract term.


Posts: 41

nerd with an attitude

« Reply #5 on: December 30, 2006, 01:28:39 AM »

Keep it safe?

I had my vision of character and what he would do and wanted to stick to it
rather than changing and expanding. It was like playing human warrior
in fantasy game to test the world and mechanic.

I think I kind of expected to see your character doing some "typical
in-character activities" first, like, dunno, talking to one of his underlings or to
locals, going on a walk or something.

I'm tired of in-character fluff and waiting for gm advice what to do lately.
When I gm I usually try to feel and negotiate starting conditions before
play. Playing time is for action.

spooky fanboy

I think you'll get weird, over-the-top games if you get weird, over-the-top players involved.

I think Nativo's actions were over the top in hard-boiled way. Filip just skipped the details.
Maybe that was different kinf of overthetopness you and Filip are talking about.

kamil wegrzynowicz
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