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Author Topic: [The Exchange / Justifiers] The right game with the right setting  (Read 2947 times)
Ron Edwards
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« on: April 22, 2010, 06:50:29 AM »

Geez, I hardly know where to start with this thread. I suppose it matters that I'm currently really interested in the range of science fiction in role-playing, and I'm writing up a purely personal set of handouts for a bunch of games I'd like to play. I suppose it'll be a problem that my own thoughts on what is or isn't science fiction are necessarily involved. See The Latest<first crack at the Justifiers piece, which I gave to the players at the con in very slightly earlier form. Because it's a rough draft, I'm making it available only for discussion here. Please do not distribute it or upload it elsewhere.

What excites me is that I think Levi Kornelsen's game in design, The Exchange, is really well-suited to the setting. His general page is here, but I used the link at the bottom of that page for the 2.0 version. This is important because I think the 2.0 version is much better than the more visually obvious 3.0 he has on his page.

For those who don't know the setting and don't check out my file, then basically, Justifiers is about corporate slavery, a technological ethnic minority, globalization, and colonization. The characters (Betas) are humanoid-animals - not Furries, in my opinion - who on paper might be able to buy off the cost of their own production through service to their parent corporation, through enabling that corporation to exploit new planets. You can find my handouts for all the pre-generated characters here<order<before<Frostfolk and GNS aggravation and [Frostfolk, ] Carrying on for discussions of The Exchange here at the Forge, especially the part in the second thread where Levi explains the injuries mechanics to me.
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Levi Kornelsen
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« Reply #1 on: April 23, 2010, 03:46:39 AM »

I'll likely stop by later and dig in a little more on details, but I just wanted to hit this one thing first.

What excites me is that I think Levi Kornelsen's game in design, The Exchange, is really well-suited to the setting. His general page is here, but I used the link at the bottom of that page for the 2.0 version. This is important because I think the 2.0 version is much better than the more visually obvious 3.0 he has on his page.

The 2.0 rules, I think, have some great strengths.  For myself, I like the later version more (or I wouldn't have written it), but this is your play here; I can see the reason for the preference, especially if you're looking for a tight focus. 

If you have any intent of moving onwards with what you've done?  Do, please, feel free to take the rules and run, including direct use of text, etc.  It's likely that you already know you can, but I want to make sure - they're yours, everyones, go for it.

Also, if you (or other readers) would like to see a smoother presentation of the 3.0 stuff at some point, even if it's just to look over some amusing hostile conditions...   Well, I've been meaning to do this for a bit, so why wait?  Here's The Cog Wars, Zero Edition, up on Amagi, which is what the 3.0 stuff became.  I'm pretty sure it won't hit your own buttons, but there may well be bits worth retrofitting if you have the notion to play with 2.0 further.
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pseudoidiot
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« Reply #2 on: April 23, 2010, 07:59:28 AM »

Hey, Ron, I'm glad you finally got a chance to get this posted up. I'll chew on it for a bit and add some thoughts of my own.

For now I just want to say I had a blast playing it and I appreciate everyone letting me sit in at the last minute.

Also, quick note: Jahmal was the Justifiers fan. It was completely new to me.

-Jeremiah
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-Jeremiah
Levi Kornelsen
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« Reply #3 on: April 23, 2010, 01:17:28 PM »

hix
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Steve Hickey


« Reply #4 on: April 25, 2010, 11:02:35 PM »

I am fascinated to read more of this Actual Play, Ron. The rules for The Exchange are a good read, and after finishing them I hope you'll talk a little more about how Injuries work in play.

In particular, I'm interested in hearing more about when Injuries get significant enough to initiate conflicts of their own (and how those conflicts feel in play - are they dramatically interesting? Repetitive?)
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Cheers,
Steve

Gametime: a New Zealand blog about RPGs
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: April 27, 2010, 07:30:33 AM »

Hi,

Levi, thanks for the reminder about the open-source content. I hope to refine what I've already written and include it with my whole "SF RPG project" document, eventually to be available as a great big free download at my site. In this case, it will be very helpful to include the direct rules text, so again, thanks.

Your suggestion about the Buyback and abilities is interesting, but it doesn't quite jibe with my use of the Exchange rules or with the setting - both of which are emphatically my individual interpretation or use, so I'm not criticizing anything about your suggestion as a general thing. But for clarity's sake, as I mentioned in the handout, I'm broadening the scope of the individual Exchange abilities to a certain extent, compared to the examples in the rules text. So the degree of refined detail in your suggestion doesn't quite fit, I think. Regarding the setting, my take is that the science of creating Betas is pretty crude at the theoretical level and doesn't allow for much specification of abilities. To some extent this interpretation of mine reflects my real-life bias as a basic researcher, vs. engineeing/corporate research. They take the animal embryo and subject it to human DNA/RNA treatment and developmental influences,* and who knows how well it will turn out, or in what particular manifestation of features.

Hi Jeremiah! Please post everything you can remember, anything that struck you as effective or not effective or fun, whatever.

Steve, as I understand it, Injuries become "a character" when the same Injury receives three or more ratings in a numerical sequence. Recall that if you win an exchange, the number of successes you get (I forget what they're called) is the number of injuries you can inflict. So if you win by three, you can literally decide there and then to create an Injury of this kind. If you win by two, you can set up for someone else or yourself to "complete" it later.

Now, all that said, one doesn't always want to create such an injury. It's hard to explain until you've experienced the system yourself, but some injuries are inflicted simply to be what they are, a modifier in later exchanges, without much need or content to demand more. This might be because supplemental available dice, which is what such an injury does, are indeed an excellent thing; and/or because the injury's fictional identity is only interesting or relevant to a limited extent.

For instance, my favorite minor Injury in our game was "Shockable," inflicted upon Joanna and Darcy, after they (badly) jury-rigged the ATV to deliver shocks to attackers who'd jump on it (again). So in later scenes when they were fighting or dealing with conflict from the ATV, I grabbed "Shockable" as a source of dice, because the system they'd built would backfire on them. This was fun - I lit up Joanna like Wile E. Coyote at one point in a later scene by using it, and if I recall correctly, Darcy was forced off the ATV in order to avoid it. But then or now, I don't see any reason that I'd build upon that injury to make it a "character" - it simply wasn't important enough in terms of raw content.

Best, Ron

* Affecting the morphogenetic field, to show off briefly
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Levi Kornelsen
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« Reply #6 on: April 27, 2010, 12:08:39 PM »

Your suggestion about the Buyback and abilities is interesting, but it doesn't quite jibe with my use of the Exchange rules or with the setting

Fair enough; given that the system develops a different micro-tradition of use every time we use it, I can't imagine that would be otherwise for you.

Steve, as I understand it, Injuries become "a character" when the same Injury receives three or more ratings in a numerical sequence.

I'd like to clarify a bit:

The rule as from the text in 2.0 is "more than three, in a series that starts at rank 1."  So, 1, 2, 3, 4, yes.   5, 6, 7, 8, No.   These two caveats are present for the following reasons:

Several in a row - you want a substantial number in series, so that traits aren't always jumping into action and doing stuff to the point of monotony.  The number required in series that's written (more than three), I picked on feel alone; groups may well want to change it based on how much activity they prefer from such sources.

Starting at Rank 1 - This matters because, in theory, you could make a series going 5, 6, 7, 8 - and going about it that way would give you a big pile of bonus dice when you're going after that injury.  A 'high run' is a bonus.  A 'low run' gets actions.  To build something vaguely like a classical "death spiral", you start by building up your attack a little with high numbers, and then building down to 1 - in order, you might tag someone with 5, 6, 4, 3, 2, 1 - and at the end, that's a six-die pool that wants them out of action.

That, however, is only the text.  After about two or three significant conflicts, in my experience, groups have enough shared feel to improvise, and the game drifts nicely over to their comfort zone.
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hix
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Steve Hickey


« Reply #7 on: April 27, 2010, 02:51:30 PM »

Thanks Ron and Levi,

The impression I'm getting from those answers is that the decision about how to assign and apply Injuries feels pretty intuitive when you're playing. Same for when to initiate conflicts where the Injuries try to harm the characters. Minor question: did you have any healing conflicts in the game (Did someone try to get rid of the 'Shockable' trait, for instance?)

Levi, that's an important clarification about Injuries, that the series has to start at Rank 1. I'd missed that in my read-through.

I'm not sure how to phrase this question, but (to explain where I'm coming from) I'm really interested in systems that 'help' me GM, by giving me guidance or inspiration about what NPCs are going to do next or about what conflicts I can introduce. I find Nine Worlds, Dogs in the Vineyard and Bliss Stage really good for this, and I have this suspicion that The Exchange might be the same. So my question is:

Ron, when you were GMing this game, how obvious was it to you what the next conflict should be, or what an NPC (the planet) should do, or what situation you wanted to set up? How much help did the rules give you with that?
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Cheers,
Steve

Gametime: a New Zealand blog about RPGs
pseudoidiot
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« Reply #8 on: April 28, 2010, 08:24:52 AM »

I'll start off by saying that of the 5 or 6 games I tried at Forge Midwest (all new to me), this was probably my favorite. Part of that was the setting, part was the system, and part was the scenario.

I think my favorite thing about the Exchange system is how even though it's really simple & straight-forward at face-value there's some depth there that sneaks up on you. They pyramid structure of traits seems a bit odd at first (at least, it did to me), but then you start to realize that those level 1 traits are your goto traits -- the traits you break out first, sort of like surface traits. But as you go up the pyramid and have less choices at each level, you find that those traits are the things your character is digging deep for, the parts of them that come out under more extreme duress. Ron touched on this a bit during the game and can probably put it to words better than I can if what I said isn't very clear.

Another thing we talked a bit about at the table that I think most of us agreed on is we'd be interested to experiment with different die sizes. Maybe go up to a d8 or d10 and see how the wider range of numbers affected how conflicts played out.

I did like the injury mechanic, but there's a part of me that wishes there might have been more guidance as to what level an injury should be placed at. There were a few times, especially at the beginning with the first few injuries, where we weren't quite sure how to make that decision. Towards the end, once we realized a series of injuries could be considered a separate character in a conflict, we just aimed at that. I guess it sort of comes down to what Ron was talking about: sometimes you want injuries to build up and form a sequence, and sometimes you just want to have an injury there that won't necessarily be part of forming a separate injury character.

As for the scenario itself, I loved how tragic it turned out to be. I forget the exact sequence of events, but at one point Joanna had to make the call that the lifeforms on the planet weren't sentient and she stuck by that call even later when we were starting to become certain that wasn't the case as the indigenous life seemed to be trying to communicate with us. I remember one scene in particular where the creatures (I think they were spider-like?) were making obvious peaceful gestures and we just opened fire on them. That really punched me in the gut a bit, and I think the other players felt the same way, especially be the end of that conflict.

If we can get the same cast of folks at Forge Midwest next year, that would be awesome, and I'd totally be up for seeing how things pan out.
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-Jeremiah
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #9 on: April 29, 2010, 01:03:53 PM »

Hi there,

Levi, I may have been working with an earlier draft, but that limitation of starting an Injury at 1 doesn't appear in my copy of 2.0. In fact, there's a short section about being able to set it anywhere. We played around with that particular option during play and I don't see any particular downside. Is there a play-experience you can describe that led you to focus on 1 being the starting point?

Steve, my answer is "all three together" to an extent, but I should emphasize that my primary ambition was to bring out what I perceive as the main strengths of Justifiers. So what to do next in a given scene was very strongly informed by thematic tension considerations, in that I was personally invested in seeing as much personal crisis about the issues-at-hand as possible, and when possible, exacerbated by the dangers of the mission itself. Since the setting is practically nothing but those issues in the context of immediate danger, I found it easy to draw upon simple content and place some aspect of it front and center in every "next go" I had.

I'd be interested in your thoughts about the PDFs I've posted on that page at my website. In each case, I've tried to summarize the parts of the game I find most thematically exciting, especially at the intersection of system and setting. In my experience, when I'm excited about that, and when the other people at the table are as well, through the medium of their characters, then scene-framing and situation-development become hyper-intuitive for me. I hope the handouts even in their rough form can help generate that kind of enthusiasm.

Jeremiah, that punch in the gut was really apparent to me all 'round the table, during that last fight. I don't think anyone really liked seeing Edgar go down either. Wasn't your character one of the guys who shot him, too?

Best, Ron
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Levi Kornelsen
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« Reply #10 on: April 29, 2010, 02:37:16 PM »

Levi, I may have been working with an earlier draft, but that limitation of starting an Injury at 1 doesn't appear in my copy of 2.0. In fact, there's a short section about being able to set it anywhere. We played around with that particular option during play and I don't see any particular downside. Is there a play-experience you can describe that led you to focus on 1 being the starting point?

I may not have been totally clear.  You don't have to start building injuries there. 

It's just: The series only starts taking actions<Fighting Your Injuries: Once you have an injury trait, or a few very similar ones, that have more than three ratings, in series, starting with a rating of one (1, 2, 3, 4, and any further of numbers afterwards), the injuries themselves take a turn as often as reasonable.

If you're doing something different, and it works, I'm interested!  It might be better than as-written. What'cha doin'?

------

And to Steve:

As intended, the engine is written with the assumption that you have a clear vision of the action (and, obviously, Ron does).  From there, the engine is supposed to help you hang that vision on mechanics, and execute it.  But it doesn't provide that vision.  Very much a "toolkit" approach, although I think I mean something different by that than the popular use in RPG circles; hammers and nails, rather than prefabricated pieces to assemble.

Anyway, in this case: It sure looks like it's working as intended.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #11 on: May 01, 2010, 10:48:07 AM »

Hiya,

Here's what we did, best understood as what I said we were to do. It's not too much different from the textual way as you've clarified here.

When and if an Injury became rated in three numbers in sequence, it became a "character" who could strike its bearer (can't think of a better word). So we knocked down the threshold by one (three instead of four) and it could be located anywhere in numeric sequence. So if you were ultimately saddled with Bleeding 3-4-5, that would count.

I found this to have fun applications. Having a double-scored single-named injury "waiting" at the higher values played a little differently from having a few of them, all different, down at 1, for instance. But any of them could become a character, and I liked the flexibility and wide variety of consequences that could lead to.

I should also clarify a little bit of how I as GM "played" such "characters." They weren't all the same. Some could attack entirely "on their own" when they (i.e. I) felt like it; others did so only in certain circumstances, such as the Shockable whenever either of the characters in question was dealing with the ATV; or only in conjunction with someone else's conflict with the Injured party. The distinction among those three options depended completely on the nature of the Injury and was non-problematic for me in practice.

Best, Ron
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hix
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Steve Hickey


« Reply #12 on: May 02, 2010, 12:11:41 AM »

Thanks for those answers - I've been finding this thread fascinating. In fact, it's inspired me to play around with combining The Exchange with Vincent's monster-generation system from Afraid. In a similar way to Ron's 'the planet is the adventure', I've created a few Afraid monsters (which I've given six levels of traits). Doing that's helped me see how you can use that single piece of prep as the basis for a session (and I'm really excited by the results).

I'm looking forward to hearing more from everyone in the session: How you used your prep (the planet as a single character) in play? What triggered the switch between mission and social/interlude scenes (and how did those social scenes play out)? and - from this quote ...

Quote
Since the setting is practically nothing but those issues in the context of immediate danger, I found it easy to draw upon simple content and place some aspect of it front and center in every "next go" I had.

... I'm keen to hear more about how you knew it was your 'go' next.

Also, Ron: The material in the first two pages of the Justifiers doc is great. It clearly identifies the themes of the setting and makes me interested in playing around with them. (I have no prior exposure to Justifiers, but remember being interested in its ads from 1980s mags like Dragon or Traveller's Aid Society.)

The 'How I'm gonna play it' section wasn't entirely clear to me on a first read. I got your point about the risk of actual play producing a weak, safe answering of the premise. However, at first I didn't see the link between 'genuine danger + exciting situation action' leading to 'social and political decisions grounded in experience. This is what I think you're getting at:

+    Characters have a difficult (but genuine) possibility of achieving buyback
+    That's coupled with them facing genuine danger in the service of a very probably unethical corporation
+    Which leads to characters needing to make real decisions about whether or not to serve the interests of that corporation (and needing to answer bigger questions about how to live their lives).

It was around this point that I stopped thinking of this as a prep sheet for a one off, as I realised that the stuff you're talking about concerns player decisions that will start to bear fruit after two or more sessions of play.

I'm a little less clear on things from the character creation section on. Buyback at Level 1 seems to be pretty easy to buy your way out of (and I'm not entirely sure where Buyback comes from; I'm guessing it's the two underlined 'species' traits?)

I'm also pretty interested in the Scope of Play section, and want to hear more about that ...
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Cheers,
Steve

Gametime: a New Zealand blog about RPGs
Levi Kornelsen
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« Reply #13 on: May 03, 2010, 02:42:48 AM »

When and if an Injury became rated in three numbers in sequence, it became a "character" who could strike its bearer (can't think of a better word). So we knocked down the threshold by one (three instead of four) and it could be located anywhere in numeric sequence. So if you were ultimately saddled with Bleeding 3-4-5, that would count.

Huh.  It's not a huge drift.  It strikes me that it would dial the (already small) safety margin down a little, since you can build an "active" series and a bonus simultaneously.  But it also sounds like it would be a bit looser, and a bit faster, which are both good things in context.

So, hey.  Noted as a workable way to go.  Nice.
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