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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4283 Members Latest Member: - otto Most online today: 113 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: Lots of questions  (Read 5693 times)
Ry
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« on: November 05, 2007, 11:11:53 PM »


1)  What happens when you tightly limit the number of Traits a Component can have?  (I'm thinking 5 for a non-named, 10 for a named character, max 3 named characters per player)

2)  What happens when players have a Player Character that's always under their control?

3)  What was the longest (ie most sessions) a Universalis game has run?

4)  What's the current status of Universalis from Ramshead's perspective?
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David Artman
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« Reply #1 on: November 06, 2007, 08:58:43 AM »

I can provide some speculation about the first two questions (take grain of salt now):

1)  What happens when you tightly limit the number of Traits a Component can have?  (I'm thinking 5 for a non-named, 10 for a named character, max 3 named characters per player)

Setting aside the notion of master classes, I would expect that to result in overly constrained play. Much of what "drives" narrative in Universalis relies on being able to assign a Trait to something; they're not just "stats" and "skills," they also handle things like "wounded" and even "dead" (but not actually Destroyed until all Traits paid off). So if you have some minor character who's already at 5 Traits and someone pays for (and narrates) "his arm gets blown off" then you won't be able to assign the "arm blown off" Trait to him because he's already (arbitrarily) "full."

Further, once you introduce master classes, these limitations are easily circumvented anyway. Someone can pay for, say, five 5-Trait MCs, then assign all five to an object, and thereby actually have 25 Traits... on that "minor" character/object which you're trying to constrain.

Basically, this part of Universalis is pretty seriously core to play; and I am not sure what you'd gain by hamstringing the players so much.

Further, you can't (by the rules, which of course you may ignore) just plop down a Gimmick for free: you have to introduce it, leaving it susceptible to Challenge, and pay Coins for it. (Note: I might be wrong about this--there may be a "legal" means of introducing Gimmicks before play and getting consensus outside of the Challenge/Coins mechanism. Been a while since I read about them, as I almost never use them.)

Quote
2)  What happens when players have a Player Character that's always under their control?

I think this has been discussed (maybe even in the rules?); and if I recall correctly, it sort of "stiffens" the narration of scenes, as a player can not get control of such "permanently controlled" characters. You have to basically divide narration up: a player will pay for scene control and setup, but then must wait for/ask other players still in control of relevant characters to introduce them and provide narration as needed--you have to basically cajole each other to pay Coins for what you want, rather than paying your own Coins to own what you want (temporarily).

In short, you sort of stop playing Universalis and begin to revert back into a traditional RPG model involving a lot of negotiation and out-of-narration table talk (which the whole Challenge and Coins mechanic is designed to handle in the first place).

Maybe you could give us some idea of what your goals are for changing the system core? What are you trying to promote, by removing so much of the game's flexibility?

David
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Ry
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« Reply #2 on: November 06, 2007, 09:37:23 AM »

I find that there are 3 things that disrupt "flow" that I look for in my games.  I have ideas to address the first two but the third is tough (see below).  I use the definition of flow found here, and unlike the author of the WotC article I have experienced what they're describing in my games.  There's a related point about everybody's shared imagination clipping along like we're in the most exciting movie ever, that's part of what I'm looking for as well.

https://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=dnd/dd/20060127a

Going GMless fascinates me, as does shared world building, so Universalis is a natural option.  The problem is that I don't get that sense of flow when I play it.  It's very intellectual, engaging, and interesting, but I don't forget myself in the game and while I'm not much of an escapist I like how forgetting myself means I'm excited and helps me have fun and make the game fun for others.

So there's two things that Universalis does that go against the flow I like to establish:

1) Lots of material objects to manage.  Between coins and dice, pairing dice, counting results, it's more than I like to see.  My favorite system was basically "2d6 + Character Concept + Modifiers vs. Target Number" with the spread informing the narrative (like PDQ).  Sifting through dice pools, keeping dice that have been bought separate from other dice, etc.  Now I have a solution for this (I found 20 decks of Bicycle playing cards for $30 and was able to make a sweet custom universalis deck, 1-5 red, 6-10 black * 40).  Another part of this solution is expanding the "friendly" rules that allow free "spending" so there is less focus on chips while doing trivial things.

2)  Ambling early play and ambling side-scenes - I have ideas that can solve this (more Tenets and slightly different purchasing structure, borrowing Passions from Mortal Coil, setting Agendas for scenes like PTA)

3) Tracking.  This I think is the big bummer of Universalis play.  Passing around cue cards, writing on them, and logging events in case of later challenges is more than I look for.  In fact, in my best (GM'd) games the players really only look down at the dice for a second, spending most of the time reacting to each other and me.   I have no idea what the best way to solve this would be.
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David Artman
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« Reply #3 on: November 06, 2007, 12:10:12 PM »

Well, handling problems are one thing, and it seems that you have that in control (enough to satisfy yourself). Perhaps you could get some colored dice and glass beads (for Coins), to better track who gave what to what.

As for the "fast ramp-up" and avoiding ambling, Tenets or Gimmicks could do that... but perhaps you aren't spending enough time generating initial consensus as to the game itself. I think the beauty of Universalis is that the "excitement" comes from a engaging in the narrative from an external author stance, as opposed to actor or pawn stances (which better generate "escapism").

I hate to say it, but it might just not be the game for you and your group, if you are trying to be an actor in a game which makes you a director. Perhaps you could port something which is more focussed on characters as individuals and uses simpler resolution (one of the games you already mentioned). I mean, I just can't see how to go GMless without a negotiation mechanic; I can't see how to manage interesting, conflict-pregnant scene framing if the only things you can control are "NPCs" and objects; and I am not sure of how you'll maintain coherence in stated facts without a record of assertions (recall that a traditional game has all of that stuff already recorded in a module/scenario/GM notes).

Perhaps others can help you figure out some particular Tenets, Gimmicks, and Master Classes that will get you closer to what you want... but I'd just reach for another one of my 80-odd RPGs, if my play group and I were bucking against Universalis's systems out the gate.

David
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Valamir
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« Reply #4 on: November 06, 2007, 07:09:39 PM »


1)  What happens when you tightly limit the number of Traits a Component can have?  (I'm thinking 5 for a non-named, 10 for a named character, max 3 named characters per player)

2)  What happens when players have a Player Character that's always under their control?

3)  What was the longest (ie most sessions) a Universalis game has run?

4)  What's the current status of Universalis from Ramshead's perspective?

Hi Ryan, thanks for the questions.

David's absolutely right about #1.  But what are you attempting to accomplish with that idea, maybe I can help identify a solution for you.

#2 is a little oddly phrased.  David's answered it about as well it can be I guess.  I'll add that what tends to happen is player's view of the story tends to shrink.  Possessing a fixed character tends to limit player's perceptions to just that character, what they want, what they're doing, where they're at.  These are questions that all players should be thinking about for all characters and framing scenes accordingly.  To the extent that players stop paying attention to characters that aren't "theirs" the game suffers pretty dramatically. 

#3 I'll leave open to the public.  I think 3 was the longest of the same "story" that I've ever played.

#4 I don't understand.   Is "selling like crazy and making me have to start thinking about another print run" an answer?
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David Artman
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« Reply #5 on: November 07, 2007, 07:46:22 AM »

#4 I don't understand.   Is "selling like crazy and making me have to start thinking about another print run" an answer?

Really? WOOT! You deserve it--FWIW, Universalis and Burning Empires are the only Indie games I've seen (lately) in my FLGS (and, oddly, Sword & Sorcerer but no Sorcerer).

Grats!
David
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Ry
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Posts: 215


« Reply #6 on: November 11, 2007, 06:41:58 AM »


1)  What happens when you tightly limit the number of Traits a Component can have?  (I'm thinking 5 for a non-named, 10 for a named character, max 3 named characters per player)

2)  What happens when players have a Player Character that's always under their control?

3)  What was the longest (ie most sessions) a Universalis game has run?

4)  What's the current status of Universalis from Ramshead's perspective?

Hi Ryan, thanks for the questions.

David's absolutely right about #1.  But what are you attempting to accomplish with that idea, maybe I can help identify a solution for you.

#2 is a little oddly phrased.  David's answered it about as well it can be I guess.  I'll add that what tends to happen is player's view of the story tends to shrink.  Possessing a fixed character tends to limit player's perceptions to just that character, what they want, what they're doing, where they're at.  These are questions that all players should be thinking about for all characters and framing scenes accordingly.  To the extent that players stop paying attention to characters that aren't "theirs" the game suffers pretty dramatically. 

#3 I'll leave open to the public.  I think 3 was the longest of the same "story" that I've ever played.

#4 I don't understand.   Is "selling like crazy and making me have to start thinking about another print run" an answer?

OK, the first 3 are taking time for me to rephrase

#4 - That's definitely a good answer.  Could you elaborate? I was curious about things like another revision, more convention demos, lessons learned, expanding/managing the community, how much you're playing Universalis, and so on.
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Ry
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Posts: 215


« Reply #7 on: November 11, 2007, 12:53:40 PM »

For #1, I thought about Mortal Coil or PTA and how they did big character definition with fewer mechanical pieces.  I'm trying to find a way to reduce the amount of recordkeeping and get characters that are still well-defined by requiring those defining characteristics to be strong (i.e. give good definition).

#2 is similar; I want the sense of an ensemble cast as I move from story to story.
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Valamir
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« Reply #8 on: November 11, 2007, 09:20:56 PM »

For #1, is the question based on actual play or the examples in the book?  I've found in actual play that most characters rarely get above a handful of Traits, unlike the characters in the book where the Traits were somewhat inflated in order to show a wider range of examples.

For #2, simplicity itself.  Just create a Tenet in your next game that certain characters from your previous game are brought forward into the current one.  That's actually 100% true to the original vision for the game in which an entire world would be developed by playing a series of games all connected by the same setting.

As for #4, I doubt I'll do another revision any time soon.  I think the current version is pretty solid, there really isn't any significant errata to correct and it accomplishes what I set out to do.  About the only thing that would cause me to do another version at this point would be if it were to hit some significant upswing in sales trend where I might consider expanding the art and redoing the examples.  '

Convention demos I'd love to do more of.  The last couple of years at GenCon I haven't done too many because the game doesn't fit well with the shift to the shorter 15 minute demo format.  The original 45 min to an hour demo format worked really well, but 15 minutes is pretty much pointless for a Uni demo, so I haven't done many.  Also I have had plans to really ramp up my local con presence.  There's a good half dozen within an easy day trip drive for me, but my schedule has been far too full to make it to any of them.

I did play a couple of Uni games at GenCon this year, but right now, most of my own play is focused on playtesting my next game Robots & Rapiers.

Uni, at least for the time being, is pretty much going along, doing its own thing.  I've found a couple of alternate distribution routes that have netted me a fair number of unexpected sales, but most of my Ramshead time is spent on other projects...including finishing up a playable ashcan for my next post R&R project, which I'll be making available as soon as I've had a chance to play it myself.
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Ry
Member

Posts: 215


« Reply #9 on: November 12, 2007, 06:19:42 AM »

#1 was based on actual play, but I may have solved some of that concern (mostly that we were spending too much time looking at physical objects on the game table instead of paying attention to mental objects in the story) with my big fat Uni decks.

#2, that makes sense. 

OK, allow me to raise question #5 -

#5 - What happens when you try to bring in concepts thfrom other games into Uni?  For example, a gimmick where before you have a Name you have to have a Passion (Mortal Coil) or Issue (PTA).
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Ry
Member

Posts: 215


« Reply #10 on: November 15, 2007, 10:29:34 PM »

This makes the question more pointed, sorry for that.

One of the big selling points for Universalis (at least for me) was the concept that the more you play it the more it becomes the game you want.  But from the reports of actual play I've seen, and what I've seen myself in a very limited range of play, I see a game that's very much its own thing and not something that's morphing.  I think to myself, if the game was morphing, wouldn't I see peoples actual play reports talking about "their" universalis being a very different game after many sessions?
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Valamir
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« Reply #11 on: November 17, 2007, 05:26:21 AM »

Hey Ryan, its taken me a while to get back to you.  My computer exploded and now I'm on a loaner while my sexy new machine get built with interminable delays.

In answer to #5, I think what would happen is what always happens in Universalis.  You bring in a tenet or gimmick.  If no one objects through challenge it is assumed everyone is on board with it.  If they do object or challenge, then you negotiate a solution that everyone can get on board with or it (rarely in my experience) winds up going to bidding where the combination of players willing to create a temporary coalition on the issue and commit the most resources gets to have it their way.  Then throughout play that now-accepted tenet or gimmick gets taken into account by all the players on their turns.  If the Tenet is to require all characters have a new thing called a Passion Trait, players will generally give all of their new characters a Passion Trait because players are generally willing to follow the rules, especially rules that they had a hand in creating (or at least reviewing).  However, there is no Fiat power of enforcement in Uni.  If some player created a character and didn't give them a Passion Trait, there is no one authority who can force them to.  If another player (lets say you to keep the pronouns easy) felt that this was wrong, you'd have to Challenge.  Through negotiation you might find the other player just forgot, or couldn't think of a good one, or what have you.  Or you might find that the other player did it intentionally because their making a statement about this character that is best expressed by violating that Tenet.  Or you might find the other player is just bored with the whole Passion Trait thing (maybe it doesn't seem to be doing all that much to be worth the effort...whatever) and doesn't want to do it anymore.  If you disagree and can't reach a negotiated solution, then the only way you can force the other player to "follow the rules" is to go to bidding and spend Coins to do so.  Now the Tenet carries with it the weight of Fact so your Coins will be doubles, and if the other players at the table agree with you, it shouldn't be hard to enforce the rule.  But if the other players feel like this one, you may find the Tenet being ignored or overturned.  In fact, and here's an important point, it only costs 1 Coin for a player to announce "We're not playing with that Tenet anymore" and your Tenet / Gimmick goes away...unless you Challenge, Negotiate, Bid for it.

That's the general flow for everything in the game whether its basic story narration elements or importing concepts from other games.  Its also why I don't recommend showing up with a list of Tenets to a game and saying "these are what we're playing with" (unless they were agreed upon prior).  Best, if you have a list, to introduce them in player through the normal rules so that everyone has a chance to get on board or express alternatives.


On to your unnumbered #6.  I'm not sure how dramatic the "morphing" would have to be for it to be readily apparent in an Actual Play report, nor how dramatic you're expecting to see.  Assuming you have the Revised version of the rules, you'll see a whole bunch of Gimmicks submitted by fans of the game that change to various degrees how the game flows.  Some players don't allow you to remove dice during Complications...that definitely has an effect on play.  Others really loosen up the Control and Interruption rules, making those portions of play feel much more free form and less "board game" like.  Others change the rules for dialog so it happens more commonly and less expensively.  Other players don't use a formal gimmick, but have through tacit agreement and personal playstyle, all but eliminated the Challenge mechanic from their play (something that I think is frought with difficulty, but seems to work well for them).

Are you looking for something like that, or something else?
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Ry
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« Reply #12 on: November 17, 2007, 07:42:19 AM »

Well, with indierpgtoronto I suggested that I'd like to try Uni + 3 gimmicks - that was my "pitch" to say "Hey, let's start this game." 

Anyway, for the response to 6... that seems to be painting with a pretty broad brush.  I was hoping to hear something like "Oh, yeah, the game starts off pretty genre-neutral but over time we really felt like this was hitting our heavily psychological X-files buttons with every scene.  The Tenets and Gimmicks we came up with helped funnel how we played into this particular mould, it was great, and of course we took those rules and Tenets straight into the next game."
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Valamir
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« Reply #13 on: November 17, 2007, 01:53:36 PM »

I'm not sure I follow.  Every game of Uni works like that.  You start off with a totally genre neutral blank page, you create Tenets and Gimmicks that funnel how you play.  If you continue the game through multiple sessions, you'll carry those Tenets and Gimmicks over.  That's standard play.

You seem to be having some important things you want to discuss, but you're only putting a sentence or two down at a time...I can't quite fill in the blanks.

Maybe take some time and expand on what it is you're actually thinking about / having problems with / trying to accomplish.  I'm happy to help, but I need more to go on.
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