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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4283 Members Latest Member: - otto Most online today: 66 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: [TSoY] Number of advances and Keys  (Read 4153 times)
Paul T
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Posts: 369


« on: November 21, 2007, 12:13:51 PM »

I'm posting here as someone who wasn't played TSoY yet, in hopes of getting some basic advice.

I may be playing with RPG newbies, and I want to simplify the system and the choices involved in chargen as much as possible.

My questions are, basically:

-How few advances are reasonable for a starting character?

I'd like to bring it down below five, but I'm worried that if characters need more than one Key to provide the player with sufficient guidance in play. Have you found that there is a certain minimum number of Keys (per player) that hits a sweet spot?

(I'm actually thinking of sticking with the five advances, but not allowing them all to be spent right away. The point is that the character that enters play should be as simple as possible. But I really want to make sure characters have enough Keys to get to all the Key-related goodness right away.)

-Does it make any sense to make Abilities more general, like using the "groups" instead of the individual Abilities? Or will this have some negative effects on play?

I realize that the Abilities are already quite broad, and a beginning character won't have all that many, so this is not a major sticking point.

Any other suggestions on making TSoY newbie-friendly on a first run? For instance, I'm considering leaving out Secrets altogether. They don't seem absolutely necessary, at least for the first session.

Thank you!


Paul
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: November 21, 2007, 03:01:02 PM »

Hi Paul,

I guess I don't follow your logic. In my experience, five advances is just right for giving a certain amount of flair and drive to an otherwise-generic race/class combination.

Why do you think the advances would be a stumbling block for new players?

I'll guess - it might engender "options paralysis," where some people try to suss out every imaginable ability and combination before they can choose, or others simply shut down in the face of too much to choose from.

I suggest that you stay with five advances, and have a bunch of packages ready for people who run into that problem. Say someone makes up an Ammeni assassin, and then gets stuck - just say "Here's the best combination for that character" and give it to them.

I don't see reducing the advances, and hence the automatic tap into the reward system, as the best strategy.

Best, Ron
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #2 on: November 21, 2007, 10:12:18 PM »

Also note the important technique of not using all Advances. Having less than five is actually pretty detrimental, because optimal play (in the sense of being able to flexibly take advantage of opportunities from the first session on) often requires you to leave one or two advances unused at the beginning. If you had any less than five you wouldn't have hardly any chance of customization at all.

Other than that, TSOY is complex compared to some other games you might want to play - it's only mid-complex compared to many traditional games, but hereby it's known as the "geek indie game" on the account of actually requiring frequent system contact to play well and enjoyably, which games like Dust Devils, The Mountain Witch or Primetime Adventures, to name a few favourites, do not. This is an important point because now and then I end up trying to play the game with folks who are not interested in figuring out even simple dicing strategy or character options, and generally speaking, the game won't work that well. Trying to freeform in TSOY (in the sense of just ignoring the system and "letting the GM take care of it") results in a below-average experience when the rest of the group is invested in the system, because the attention of the rest of the players is invested in the system interactions at many crucial points of play. If you are not interested in the event of scoring xp from a Key buyoff, and what this implies about the character in question, then there'll simply be a lot of activity in the game that does not produce enjoyment for you, to pick an example. Likewise, if you consider it a tyranny of the dice that your cool character loses in conflicts because he doesn't have the necessary strengths to triumph, then TSOY won't work for you, no matter how simple it is made.

The thing is, this kind of problem is not caused by the complexity of the game, it's caused by the nature of the system. You won't help a person get interested in the system by dumbing it down, you'll only make it slower and more arduous for the actually interested players to get the entire system of interaction to start swinging. The (ostensible) minority who gets confused about multiple Keys or picking Secrets from a list (or generally picking Secrets - as I intimated above, the problem seems to usually be that the person is not at all oriented towards or interested in depicting their character in systematic terms) won't enjoy the game any more if you remove the actual content of the game and try to leave more room for freeform play.
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Paul T
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Posts: 369


« Reply #3 on: November 22, 2007, 12:19:41 PM »

Ron and Eero, thank you both for your replies.

Ron, I think you got it--I'm not looking to simplify the system or remove bits of it, I just want to narrow down the players' choices at chargen so we can get into the game faster. The "packages" idea is neat, but it sounds restrictive as well. I like how TSoY really creates unique characters as opposed to stereotyped, archetypal ones. The whole game (setting, etc) has a lot of flair to it, and jumping with templates like "The Assassin" seems to go against that. I mean that in an aesthetic sense more than in any other sense.

Eero, you're right on with your advice not to "avoid" the system--and I'm not planning to!

It looks like the best choice would be to use the standard five advances, but to only ask that the players spend two or three of them right away and hold on to the remainder for later use, once the game gets going.

I'm still curious about:

--What have you found to be the "sweet spot" for a number of Keys for a character? Is one Key too few? Is five Keys too many? Most AP reports seem to mention character with two or three Keys--is that the best number (although of course it'll vary depending on what the Keys are and who the players are)? I'm just looking to get an idea of the point where it's enough to give the players and GM something to work with but not overwhelming. I have a feeling that there's a "minimum level" where there are enough Keys for them to impact play significantly, and I don't want to undershoot that. In other words, how many does a player need to play their character effectively? How many does a GM need to structure situations for play?

--Would removing Secrets (with the intent of introducing them later, maybe at the second session) impact play negatively? Their function seems to be mainly to give characters a "schtick" or occasional advantage.

--Would use more general Abilities impact play negatively? The Abilities are nicely broad already, but there are also a LOT of them to choose from. I was thinking of using the Ability categories instead of the Abilities themselves.

I think what I'd like to go for, as far as chargen goes, would be something like:

--Standard Ability selection, as in the rules.
--Choose two Keys
--Choose one other Ability at Adept, or bump one you already have to Master
--You get two advances to use in later play

Then we can be ready to play, and players can buy some Secrets or more Keys once we've started the game itself (in response to in-game events) and in later sessions.

So, am I undermining the system by doing this, or does sounds like it would work?

Thanks again!


Paul




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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #4 on: November 23, 2007, 12:14:15 AM »

--What have you found to be the "sweet spot" for a number of Keys for a character? Is one Key too few? Is five Keys too many? Most AP reports seem to mention character with two or three Keys--is that the best number (although of course it'll vary depending on what the Keys are and who the players are)? I'm just looking to get an idea of the point where it's enough to give the players and GM something to work with but not overwhelming. I have a feeling that there's a "minimum level" where there are enough Keys for them to impact play significantly, and I don't want to undershoot that. In other words, how many does a player need to play their character effectively? How many does a GM need to structure situations for play?

The number of Keys is foremost an issue for the player - if he has one, he can focus on fulfilling it 100%. However, if he has two, he will get more opportunities, generally speaking, to use one or the other than he'd get with just one. With three he will have some little trouble coordinating - he will have to remember his Keys, and he will probably not be able to drive each of them to its full extent in play. More than that will usually mean that the character, in practice, has Keys that are purely sideline for now - they might come up later, but each moment the focus is only on a subset.

I usually suggest getting another Key if a character seems to only have one. If a player tries to game the system by maximizing his Keys, I remind him that there's more to getting xp than just the number of Keys.

I have not, generally speaking, considered the number of Keys a storyguiding issue. My duties as the SG are the same whatever the number of Keys the characters have. When preparing adventures I usually only consider one Key per character anyway, so any extras just mean that I emphasize different parts of the same character over time. It's not my job to give a full-body massage to the characters, most of the responsibility for finding meaning in the Keys is on the players, not the Story Guide.

Quote
--Would removing Secrets (with the intent of introducing them later, maybe at the second session) impact play negatively? Their function seems to be mainly to give characters a "schtick" or occasional advantage.

It'd completely destroy the way I play, but I could imagine somebody else getting by, albeit in a much reduced and more freeform game. Secrets are much more than just occasional character details:
- Secrets feed on Pools and therefore fuel the refresh reward cycle. You want the players to be tempted to blow their Pool on conflicts, and they won't be if they don't have Secrets that use Pool.
- Secrets signify passive character identity facets upon which the TSOY-style development stories are built. Give the character a Secret of Nobility and you will naturally have to question what benefits it offers and how it affects the future of the character, for example. Might be that you have powerful follow-up Secrets that are only usable by those of noble blood (like in Middle-Earth), or might be that nobility is just an empty word the society clings to, or perhaps nobility is the societal glue that keeps the primitive society together.

Quote
--Would use more general Abilities impact play negatively? The Abilities are nicely broad already, but there are also a LOT of them to choose from. I was thinking of using the Ability categories instead of the Abilities themselves.

The Finnish version of the game recommends that more general abstract Abilities (of which some examples are "Beautiful (I)", "Strong (V)" and "Intelligent (R)") can be used side-by-side with the Abilities proper, but only with the understanding that the more generic Abilities are mainly used for bonus roll-overs, with the SG having a free hand to pick which Ability is used for conflicts. So if your character has a few vague generic Abilities, the SG is well within his rights to declare that any given conflict requires more specific knowledge, but allows bonus dice from your ultra-generic Ability. For example, beauty could be used by the character in most social situations for bonus dice, but as primary Ability it could only be used in... well, attracting a spouse or winning beauty contests, really.

That being said, I don't recommend occupational generic Abilities; that would remove most of the tension from Ability choosing in conflicts, as almost any Ability could be used in any situation. TSOY dicing works in a pretty unique way, allowing player characters pretty easy means for overcoming their opposition in their own areas of expertise. This means that a large part of conflict resolution in the game stems from finding out whether the character actually has any useful skills for the situation. The actual dice-rolling is often very random, so the conflict is actually largely resolved by negotiating the conflict situation, at which point we find out who's operating on his strengths and who's not. The advantage is on the party who has the initiative, as he will usually try to resolve the conflict in a manner that maximizes his benefit compared to the opposition.

So you'd lose nuances, mainly, as well as the dynamic uncertainty of conflicts. Also, if you intented the generic Abilities to replace the specific ones, you'd need to restructure the existing systems for spell casting and such, as those use the specific Ability scheme.

Quote
So, am I undermining the system by doing this, or does sounds like it would work?

I've played the game quite a bit, so I'm comfortable with it. If you aren't, then there's not that much to be done - you could play it with somebody who's already familiar with the rules to find out in practice which rules do something useful and which don't. But barring that, you do what you need to do: GMing a game you don't agree with doesn't work that well, so it's probably better to make whatever changes you need to feel confident. As a TSOY veteran I see the particular changes you suggest as pointless; I have my own house-rules for the system, but those particular things you mention have been non-issues for me. It is, however, a different viewpoint and different needs (as I described before, we play other games when a high-points-of-contact system like TSOY is not appropriate), so for all I know those changes you suggest might be just right for your game.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: November 23, 2007, 07:17:36 AM »

Hi Paul,

Your posts look scared. It looks to me as if you're trying to lock down the potential variables of play because, as you summarize them in your mind, you realize that you aren't going to be able to tell what will happen, or what players will do.

There isn't any sweet spot - as many Keys as the player wants to carry, is the Keys that character has.

Removing important rules features from TSOY, such as Secrets, is like amputating an animal's leg. Yes, it's "easier" to control it now, because it's lighter or more helpless or whatever. But it ain't going to be the animal called fun TSOY; it sure as hell won't run better.

The abilities' scale is very nicely tuned - even balanced, in the old-school sense of the term, between general and specific. I recommend not messing with them.

And finally, your response to my comment above is classic dodging back and forth. (1) How can I limit the multifarious options to streamline their choosing? (2) Provide pre-streamlined sets of options. (3) But that would limit the options! Can't help you, man, if you back out of what you were asking for. The clear option for your practical concerns about time and character prep is to provide partly made up characters, and have everyone fill out the rest by the existing rules to the existing recommended starting character parameters.

I'm posting a little bluntly because I think you're seeking control over the future events of play, or at least an understanding that is better suited for a small-scale strategy game - the kind of understanding that creates a comfort zone, in which all the twists and turns of play remain confined. I think that's illustrated especially well by this strange desire to play with the full rules "later," starting with some kind of limited limping version. It's true, that like Dust Devils and like The Riddle of Steel, there is no possible pre-play comfort zone for TSOY such as one might generate by a pre-play careful reading of the rules for, say, Oriente. My advice is to trust the rules (they are brilliant), embrace the opportunities offered by the setting, and to let go of what you're seeking here.

Best, Ron
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Paul T
Member

Posts: 369


« Reply #6 on: November 23, 2007, 04:34:27 PM »

Ron and Eero,

Thank you both once again!

Your points both make a lot of sense to me, and I will take your advice in full.

Eero - in particular, your "overview" of how the various parts interact in play is exactly what I'd been hoping for, and is extremely helpful.

I'm looking forward to playing this game!

Best,


Paul
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