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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4283 Members Latest Member: - otto Most online today: 70 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: Clarifications  (Read 6408 times)
Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #15 on: January 30, 2008, 11:16:02 AM »

It is sort of hilarious how many threads end in me saying "it seems like TSOY might not be the game for what you want." Anyway, you can guess what I'm about to say.

So, all those things you want to do: those are things starting characters do. There are no super-powers in Near. There are ordinary people you can influence. Spending your four advances to be the guy who holds the zu word for "tiger" (or, let's see, "knife-tooth-hunter-beast") makes you one of the most powerful and influential people in your personal world, certainly the most influential person you know. Any single Three-Corner Magic ability is kind of immensely powerful and makes you either revered or reviled.

Removing transcendence is a really bad idea, but I don't want to be the guy telling you how to play your game, so just take this as advice and not me saying, "Don't do that." Anyway, the core of the game is about how the playing field is leveled, and anybody, no matter who they are, can change their world. By pumping up characters and then removing the mechanism by which inhuman characters are removed, you're playing a different game, and one that other game systems do better.
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Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games
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« Reply #16 on: January 30, 2008, 11:26:43 AM »

Hi!
 Well, I think its pretty plain that I don't know a ton about the game. And I have never got a straight answer, so I will just ask straight up. Why Transcendence? What is the issue with Grandmaster? I know that lvl 7 success is impressive, but I don't understand why it is so bad you want to take it out of the game. I am not trying to be confrontational, just trying to understand. Everyone I have talked to has said the same thing, leave transcendence in. But no one has said why. My guess is it is supposed to be obvious, but as you may have guessed, its not obvious to me, lol
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Dave M
Author of Legends of Lanasia RPG (Still in beta)
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Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #17 on: January 30, 2008, 11:36:38 AM »

Dave,

Cool. I totally have answers for you there.

So, TSOY's a game about people, right? It's there in the book: "No gods. No monsters. Just people." Everyone in the game should be a person, and while there's magic, I still intend it to be like (my idealistic view of) the real world, where if you've got enough gumption, and enough reason to, you can take on anybody in the world and win. I could take down the head of a pharmaceutical company if they gave my wife the wrong medicine and killed her, or I could win a Supreme Court case to marry another man if I were in love with him, or I could beat up a skilled robber if my home was threatened. These ideas are idealistic, as I said, and not totally realistic, but not completely fantastical either.

In most fantasy, this isn't true. The guy with the magic sword can kill anyone who dares confront him. The gods can smite down anyone. The lord of the land can't be reasoned with. You see where I'm going, I bet.

So, TSOY's different. People aren't smaller in it: people are big and powerful and institutions are fallible. The setting is such that the world's a place that needs fixing, and you are powerful enough to do it, with the help of your friends.

Transcendence is there because traditional fantasy games let you build and build and build until you're just plain tired of play. Transcendence cuts that off early. When you're the best at something that a human could ever be, when you're on the cusp of complete invulnerability, you're going to get a chance to change the world forever in a way that you get to choose completely. The only place where something like "narration rights" is mentioned in TSOY is in Transcendence, and that's because it's the place where you get to take over and say how you change the world forever. And that's it - you don't come back and get to be the invulnerable lord, or god, or whatever. You get to have a legend.
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Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games
shadowcourt
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« Reply #18 on: January 30, 2008, 12:09:36 PM »

I think there may be some confusion here, in that different people in this conversation are looking for different things, but also not necessarily using the same terms for them.

Dave, I was reading some of the new material from the D&D 4th edition designers yesterday, and even *they* were talking about the problems you discuss in D&D 3rd edition--that 1st level characters feel weak and throw-away, and the conflicts you get into simply don't have a huge dramatic feel to them.

That space starting around 3rd or 5th level is the game's "sweet spot"-- where play is fun and people feel like they have real efficacy. Similarly, above a certain level (some people say its 13th, or 11th, or elsewhere) the power discrepancy becomes so huge that characters almost phase themselves out of existence. A lot of what used to be interesting in the story is just boring, as some conflicts can be walked right through with ease, and others are about micro-management of so many little things (the spell list for a 14th level wizard is truly onerous, and yet he doesn't use a vast majority of it), that the characters fall out the other side of the "sweet spot."

With a mind towards this, Dave, I can tell you that one of the best things about TSOY is that its almost entirely all "sweet spot." Starting characters, the ones with just 5 advances, have tons of efficacy as starting characters. In my games I've seen at least two children of powerful Ammenite fathers of Houses, a lazy son of a Lord of Maldor, the leaders of ratkin warrens, ambassadors from pirate empires, exiled leaders from failed coups against goblin kings, and escaped Zaru slaves who freed themselves by plunging two Ammenite Houses into warfare. All of these were starting characters. 5 advances (though I tend to throw in one extra Key for free, which I heartily recommend, as it gets the story going quickly). All of them had *plenty* of efficacy. Dozens of sessions, and 20 advances later in some cases, they still had plenty of efficacy. They'd grown as characters--shed Keys and tried new ones, picked up new Abilities and advanced others, bought and even designed new Secrets, and much more--but they never fell out of the "sweet spot" where things stayed challenging and interesting.

Starting characters can be as powerful or as immaterial as you want them to be. The strength of TSOY is that you DON'T need to call for every single thing to be a conflict. If you want a starting character to be a Lord of Maldor, that's fine-- don't make it a challenge for him to issue orders to every one of his subordinates. If he's well-supported, that's not what the drama of the story is about. If its about his conflict with a rival Lord, then *that's* where the challenge should be. Yes, your points about raising NPC's to suit the level of the PC's is a wise one, but the fact is that that challenge level is easily adjusted even during a game, as PC's advance in power. Most of the ability scores of your NPC's are going to be entirely opaque to players, anyhow. Narrate results, not scores. This isn't a game where we care about THAC0.

Similarly, not every duke or baron is a Grandmaster in every ability. Look around you in the real world--there are plenty of people with a lot of power who aren't necessarily geniuses, the most charismatic people in the world, or the strongest/fastest/what-have-you. Placing characters in positions of power where they CAN'T just muscle through every conflict they're in (even if "muscle" means debate/seduce/charm/magic/or any other mechanism) makes things interesting. It forces them to seek allies, get into bed with questionable friends, pursue unusual solutions, and advance themselves personally. In my experience, players leap at the opportunity to settle a grudge from a previous loss. Games shouldn't always be about winning, in my opinion; losing is just as instructive, and often contributes to the drama.

In terms of Transcendence and the range of ability, I'll try and answer what I suspect Clinton is already thinking, from what I've heard him say before. The point has always been that, in TSOY, the worst guy having the best day has a shot at taking out the most potent character having the worst day of his life. An Unskilled character *can* take out a Grandmaster, if he does his best and the Grandmaster does his worst. That's wildly different than D&D--where no 1st level monster has a snowball's chance in hell against a 20th level character. The math simply doesn't support that 1st level monster ever being able to even scratch the 20th level character; there is never a way it happens. TSOY chooses to head in the opposite direction, making the possibility of greatness from a seemingly "weak" character a possibility. The songbird CAN kill the dragon, under the right circumstances.

Transcendence is one way of supporting that idea. If the most powerful characters in the world end up disappearing in a flash of magic and drama, then you neatly avoid the issue of having the world ruled by these "epic level" types, who are utterly unscratchable. More than a game balance issue, it makes for an opportunity for the narrative to end in a dramatically satisfying way for players who achieve that level of power; endings aren't a bad thing. Good stories end; every good movie you've ever seen had an ending, and I know this because you're here right now and not watching it. Transcendence is *a* way for the story to end, but it doesn't have to be *the* way for the story to end. In the current Ammenite game I'm playing, we'll be long done before anyone Transcends. I've actually never seen an in-game Transcendence, simply because I've never seen anyone take their Ability all the way and then roll a perfect success.

And not to beat this dead horse one more time, but there's always the Secret of the Bodhisattva for those who just can't bear the idea of character Transcendence.

Having never seen it happen in game, why do I still think it has a place in TSOY? Honestly? Because it's cool. Because it adds a weird magical thing to the world that I've never seen used in any fantasy game (odds are it might be out there; I just haven't read or played every game ever written, so bear with me) which makes people wonder about metaphysics. There's a total solar eclipse; that couldn't happen prior to Near getting a moon. This is something new, and weird. Is it tied with the strangeness about elven immortality? Where do those people who Transcend *go*? Maybe some of them don't even really "leave", but their state of existence changes. That's exciting to me. It fires my imagination. It makes me wonder about a world where drama and supernatural physics are tied together. It's fairytale and romantic and perplexing. It leaves me guessing. And I like guessing.

But that's my opinion. And your mileage may vary.

Another example is worthwhile from my World of Darkness gaming experience. In most cases, from what I've seen, every attempt to play something like Vampire with characters who were built as Elders has been a game where we feel like Neonates with too many kewl powerz. There's something to be said for characters coming into their own. Granted, I don't usually have people start as humans or ghouls, the same way I don't start D&D games with characters at 1st level-- I want to be in the "sweet spot." But you can move out of the "sweet spot" with too much power, and you can also move out of the dramatic "sweet spot" with characters who have plenty of power but no real attachment to the setting and the characters around them. TSOY works best when the drama is interpersonal and intimate. Those stories hit Keys like crazy, and make things work really well. Slaying dragons is boring in TSOY, unless the dragon you're slaying killed your wife and children, or *is* your brother hideously transformed into a dragon, or the dragon offers you power, wealth, and influence beyond your wildest dreams if you'll only stop with the slaying nonsense and get down to what's really interesting in the world. Those dramatically interesting moments aren't directly related to how high your abilities are rated; they're about what characters care about, and what their players care about.

My suggestion, for what its worth? Build a campaign with the advances as they stand. If you really feel the power gap, which is super unlikely from my experience after, say, 3 more advanced, then promoting characters with a host of advances added at a certain juncture is easy; just advance the story with a narrative break, and play "Book Two" of the story, wherein everyone is way more badass and has lots of new abilities and powerz and such. Removing ability and power once you've given it, which you might be tempted to do if the game starts out so "ultra mega" won't satisfy anyone; players will just feel like you're hosing them. If you start characters in positions of power but uncertain how to use them, you'll probably nicely find the "sweet spot" quickly. Wars between nations and magical stories of grand sweeping change are possible with only moderate ability scores, and probably a lot more satisfying. There's still room to grow. Once everyone hits the ceiling, where do you go next?

But, as always, that's only my opinion. And your mileage may vary.

The fact is that neither the game police, nor Clinton himself, will come to your house and arrest you for playing the game any way you want. Throw away the dice and play "rock, paper, scissors", or draw cards from a deck and play "high card wins" if thats the mechanic you like more. Include a 4th, 5th, or even a 6th pool if it suits your play style, or cut the number of abilities in half. None of these will "ruin" the game, but every one will change it, and has repercussions for play style.

But if you just want to know if it works as written-- it does. It works beautifully. But make it your own. The important part is to have fun.

-shadowcourt (aka josh)
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #19 on: January 30, 2008, 12:39:26 PM »

As an interesting minor detail, I've always considered Transcendence first as a narrative technique, not an in-setting event. Sure, the eclipse is real, but it's not necessarily so much as remarked upon by any characters. Transcendence is, for me, most of all about ending a growth story in a satisfying manner, like a movie that ends when we know that the hero has grown into something and can pretty much imagine what he's going to do after riding into the sunset. Such a character doesn't necessarily disappear from the setting, either - I haven't had to give statistics for such characters after Transcendence, but technically that could happen in my game if a campaign continued after it - I imagine that I'd halve all Abilities, remove all Keys and remove all but three of the Secrets of a Transcended character if somebody came to bother him in his NPC retirement, or something like that.
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« Reply #20 on: January 30, 2008, 12:51:06 PM »


To understand Abilities, realize that there isn't a character with more than six or so Abilities above Unskilled. Anything more is pure waste, as the game is intented to work by allowing players great leeway in choosing their Abilities for a situation. Specifically, you as the SG do not choose which Abilities a character needs to use in a specific situation - you do not put in a gorge and call for a Jumping (V) check! Instead, you put in the gorge, and the player, if he wants to, may describe how his character tries to surmount the obstacle. Most likely he will use something he already knows well, and that's exactly how the game is supposed to go; you don't punish players for not having some marginal Ability nobody would want, you let character nature be expressed by the choice of Ability players bring into situations.

I can't stress the above point enough when it comes to TSoY procedure - the SG never needs to know or care about the Abilities characters have. In some other games the GM can't put in a wild horse encounter if he doesn't know how the riding rules in the game work, but in this game that's exactly what he does - he puts in some wild horses because that fits his sense of a good encounter, and then it's up to the characters to maybe have or not have suitable Abilities for dealing with wild horses. Whether a given Ability is "suitable" is judged in a case-per-case basis, the SG does not need to have a premade list of which Abilities are suitable and which are not. If the group considers a given Ability suitable for a given situation, then it is.

When you think about the implications of that procedural point for character generation, you will probably notice that a given fictional super-hero doesn't actually have dozens and dozens of high Abilities in TSoY terms. In GURPS (to pick an arbitrary traditional game) your character is forced to have high Abilities any which way simply because if the GM should call for a specific skill check, the character will fail in a most ignominious manner if he hasn't developed that skill. In TSoY a character will do just fine if he has something for violent situations, something for social situations, a little bit for romance, a dash of analytical Ability... in practice the game plays to its strengths when a barbarian character kills the diplomat instead of talking with him because that's how he can win; the assumed weakness of the character is not a weakness when the player can freely choose how he acts, it's a part of the nature of the character - this character solves diplomatical situations with steel because he doesn't have a diplomatical Ability! If you give player enough Advances to raise all Abilities sky-high this character definition disappears, which makes the game not only duller, but it also causes it to choke in dice - when characters have lots of Abilities it can also take a lot of time to work out all support checks when the character is making an Ability check. If you want characters to be equally capable in everything, you should rather give them less Advances instead of more. Simpler that way.

This is an excellent analysis.
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