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A couple of questions on my first thoughts...

Started by MTLloyd, December 03, 2007, 01:58:18 PM

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Okay, so the idea wandered into my head unbidden and now refuses to go away, so I figure I may as well roll with it. First of all, some questions:

1. How would people react to a game where the mechanics are based entirely around the use of a Tarot deck? I mean is it asking too much of people to beg, borrow, steal or make such a deck just to play a single game?

2. I'm thinking of only giving characters something along the lines of nine-or-ten main stats, with perhaps five additional 'meta' stats. Is this really enough to give enough variation when my original notes look for something like seven hundred and twenty character combos from just three choices?

3. In a game intended primarily for the narrative, is including a complicated way to determine the order in which characters take their actions too much?

I'm sure there'll be more, but any feedback on these would be much appreciated. Cheers!

Ron Edwards


You mention "the idea" in your first sentence, but since you haven't shared the idea, it's really hard - in fact, not possible - to get an idea of what kind of game you're talking about. I'll do my best.

Also, I suggest that "how would people react" is not a very useful framework for your questions. The question is, what will work best for the kind of game you'd like to design? That's how I plan to answer. These are not reactions; they are advice and suggestions based on quite a bit of independent game design over the last few years. Better than a reaction, eh?

Those are pretty easy questions, but the answers might be hard. Let's see.

1. Tarot deck: hey, lots of games use Tarot decks. Run a search on the word here at the Forge to find a few. The general trouble with them, I've observed, is that they have such a subcultural identity of their own, that they are distracting. Ultimately, either one gets wrapped up in geeking-out about Tarot, or one strips down the Tarot functions to such an extent that one might as well use plain old cards, or a simplified custom semi-Tarot deck of some kind. So the question for you is, is the Tarot deck really exactly what this game needs? Or should you use playing cards, or should you invent a cool deck of your own? (the latter is not particularly hard to do, graphically)

Is there anything Tarot-like in the content of the game? Is the game about mystical stuff, or about insights, or about interpreting symbols in some way? If the answers are no, then I don't see much reason to use the Tarot deck beyond its gimmick value.

2. Stats and stuff, so-called. I'm guessing that you haven't encountered many games in which characters have one (1) number on the sheet. Or perhaps they have lots of numbers, but none of them describe physical features like "strength." Or perhaps they have several items on the sheet, but none of them have numbers with them. And you know what? In each game's case, there are literally thousands of possible player-character concepts, and no, these are not "free-form" games - they all use very strict, dice or card based mechanics.

What I'm saying is that there is no actual connection between number of "attributes" (strength, endurance, whatever) and the diversity of player-characters in your game. You don't get "more possibilities" by piling on more attributes and more derived scores. What you'll get is a big annoying mess. To do your game right, you must decide what numbers on the sheet will actually get used during play, and throw out all the other ones. For instance, I look back on all those Hero System games I played, and I now realize that the 10 basic attributes were a big waste of time. What mattered were the Combat Values and a few of the derived scores; about six numbers total. If the game had merely found a way to generate those numbers directly, we all could have saved ourselves a universe of pain-in-the-ass fiddling.

3. The order of actions. Well, this is a big issue. The first thing I'll have to know to help you, is what you really mean by "a game intended primarily for the narrative." What in the world is that? Please use an example of what you'd like play to look like, to help me understand. The second thing is to ask if you have run into the term "IIEE" before. It's an invention of mine, actually, and it helps a lot in coming up with these mechanics.

Also, what sort of crisis might a character, or set of characters, face in this game? Can you describe what the characters are like, and what might be happening in a complicated situation?

Best, Ron

J Tolson

To answer all your questions at once: Maybe.
But as I suspect you'd like more feedback than that, allow me to be verbose.

1) I am fairly sure that asking people to get their hands on a normal deck of playing cards isn't too much. That nicely takes care of their need for well over half of a tarot deck; how necessary, then, is the rest?

If it is necessary, then I would say either provide a way for players to make their own (sheets that they can copy and cut up would be easiest) or create a "test" version of the game for people to try out, sort of like Ron Edwards trial version of Sorcerer. In the trial version only the standard playing deck is required.

But really, there is not much more of a financial investment for your game than DnD making players own a set of dice.

2) 9 or 10 stats seems too much. Throw in an additional 5 meta stats and I, as a player, would throw your game (across the room, maybe into the trash, etc). I am reminded of one of the elements that Ron identified in his fantasy heartbreaker articles; those heartbreakers overdid it on the stats.

720 character choices is 718 character choices too many (more or less). The more variation there is, the less meaningful that variation will seem to be. If I want something painfully complex, I'll go play Axis and Allies (I may even finish full game of it, one day). Focus on a few areas that your character creation does well, chuck that which is there for no other reason than to be "realistic" or whatever fancy word you might... well... fancy.

3) Yes, that is too much. In a game intended for gamist play, a complicated way to determine the order in which characters take their actions is too much.

There are two types of "realism;" realism in terms of accuracy and realism in terms of speed. For example, it is realistic for a game to take into account gravity, wind trajectory, throwing strength, weapon weight and design, and so forth in determining how a spear will fly once thrown. It is also realistic for a game to make it just as quick to thrown a spear in game as it is to throw a spear out of game. It sounds like you are going for realism-of-accuracy and sacrificing realism-of-speed.

Is determining initiative important to your game or the narrative? The more important it is, the more time players should spend on it (but I would still recommend setting a balance of the two realisms and trying to follow that guideline).

I guess really a lot of my response can be summed up in Occam's Razor: "entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem", or "entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity". Use the simplest system possible for the effect you want (and thus, know the effect that you want first).

Just a thought.