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Author Topic: [Thugs and Thieves] The case of the unwilling players  (Read 9001 times)
ethan_greer
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« on: September 08, 2003, 05:57:42 AM »

First things first: Current playtest version of Thugs and Thieves can be found here. Although I don't know how useful this link will be for this thread, since we didn't use that version to play...

So, I ran a session of Thugs and Thieves yesterday with my regular Sunday group.  I'm going to give the reactions to play first.

Troy explained to me that he felt the system did what I had set out for it to do, and also explained that if I had tried my hardest to come up with a game that he personally would hate, I would be writing this game. Just a lucky coincidence, I guess.

Michael said that it felt a lot like a B-grade fantasy movie.  Cool! He also felt that the Abilities were wonky.  He wanted to see strength and dexterity separated out into two Abilities instead of having just Physique.

Tony said that the game was missing something, that it was like "broth, without noodles, meat, or vegetables," and that it seemed unfinished. When I pressed him for what he felt was missing, he said he didn't know. At which point I asked him why he was talking.

Tony also felt that the Beast Lore Ability was completely extraneous and unnecessary.  He claimed that it could as easily be covered by a Charisma Descriptor.  Incidentally, Tony has never watched The Beastmaster.

All the players claim to have had fun, and I believe them. Also, none of the players claimed to be too keen on the game itself. This discrepancy is a little baffling. "It does what you set out to do, and we had a good time playing, but we don't like the game."  Uh, okay...

Anyway.

Troy was a gambling cat-burgler.  Michael played a swash-buckling fencer-type whose Vice was "having a good time." Tony played a pugilist opium smoker.

As for the game itself: I didn't have any prep done, so I just put the party in a tavern and had a mysterious stranger come up to them and offer them a bag of coins to leave town.  He explained that the first bag was half payment, that their accomodations for the evening were paid for, and the next morning a man would meet them on their way out of town and give them the other half of the payment. The stipulation was simply that the party leave town and never come back.

Well, as you can imagine, the party freaked out. Tony's character was pretty irritated by it, Troy's character was convinced it was a total setup, and Michael's character thought it was a great opportunity to leave town in style after throwing a huge mother of a party at the tavern.  All of the characters agreed that one thing they wouldn't be doing was meeting the man in the morning for the second bag of coins. Troy was set to leave immediately, while Michael and Tony decided to get the party going and then clear out in the drunken confusion.

Troy's character sneaked out as soon as it was dark, while Michael and Tony rounded up townsfolk for the party.  While the party was going on, Troy's character was attacked by a hideous beast out in the woods.  The characters ended up meeting on the road as Troy was evasively dealing with the beast, and the group dispatched the foul creature just as a couple members of the town watch arrived.

The watchmen were impressed, and heaped praise upon the party at their bravery and cunning in defeating the scourge that had plagued their fair community for several nights. They took the head of the beast and presented it to the head guard, who was much pleased.

Then the party left town by cover of night, and that was that.

My observations:
- I'm not going to bother tracking wounds for adversaries, unless they're "Worthy Adversaries." Run-of-the-mill opponents go down after one hit.
- I like how conflict resolution works. Nice, quick, and uncomplicated; very cinematic.

My questions:
- Does anyone agree with Michael that strength and dexterity should be separate Abilities, splitting Physique?
- Does anyone agree with Tony that Beast Lore is too specialized, and that it could be covered by a Descriptor to Charisma?
- Can anyone come up with what Tony might be talking about when he says the game doesn't feel finished?
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #1 on: September 08, 2003, 06:21:15 AM »

How likely is it that a lot of this is just reactions based on what the group is used to? How much might be a play style problem? Are they thinking it's not finished because you handle certain things with abstract mechanics rather than with more concrete task resolutions?

Mike
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: September 08, 2003, 06:32:22 AM »

Hi Ethan,

Here are my guesses. I'm pretty sure that you can see the necessary qualifiers written on the wall, really big. Despite the tone of the response, I am not at all sure that I'm correct. Take the points and filter them through your on-site knowledge, and discard what doesn't make it through.

Quote
- Does anyone agree with Michael that strength and dexterity should be separate Abilities, splitting Physique?


No. This is habit and neophobia talking. All the RPGs he's ever seen do it, yours doesn't, and it disturbs him.

Quote
- Does anyone agree with Tony that Beast Lore is too specialized, and that it could be covered by a Descriptor to Charisma?


Yes and no. See below.

Quote
- Can anyone come up with what Tony might be talking about when he says the game doesn't feel finished?


Yes. He's talking about your prep, Ethan. You didn't prep anything except a conundrum. The key factor in the source material is that even though it's B-movie, it's good B-movie, which is to say emotionally engaging in spite of all the cheesy filming and effects. In Beastmaster, at least speaking for myself, I really want to see Dar avenge his people and get his birthright, and all that. That guy got a raw deal, and he stood up to deal with it, and he did. But in your session, there wasn't any "There" there, so no matter what the characters did, nothing really happened.

In theory terms, there's no Premise. And all right, you're not going for Narrativist play, so there doesn't need to be one ... but in Simulationist terms, then, there should be a Theme. A point to it all, which is to say, some topic at hand for the players to care about.

More concretely, I don't see any adversity in your prep. How were the characters' access to their Vices threatened? How were their lives, money, and well-being threatened? Granted, "blowing up the bar" is a rotten way to start a story, but some kind of severe danger seems like a legitimate expectation, somewhere in there.

So what does this have to do with Beast Lore? Well, for Beast Lore to be important, there have to be beasts. And those beasts should be a big deal, in terms of adversity (frothing baboon mass-attack) and in terms of opportunity (the giant snake caught in a wicked trap). Your foul beast is a good start, but only a start. Beast Lore presumes interacting with beasts, not just fighting them. That interaction should be factored into scenarios with a vengeance.

Best,
Ron
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Marco
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« Reply #3 on: September 08, 2003, 06:45:06 AM »

Hi,

I haven't had time to examine the rule-set (and you said you didn't play with it, anyway). But:

A good reason to split Strength and Dexterity (or whatever) is to give multiple paths to character effectiveness. It's only sensible to split them if a) their effect on combat/whatever is roughly even and b) different.

Then you can get:
The Blindlingly Quick Knife Fighter
The Massively Strong Knife Fighter
The really Agile Knife Fighter
(or some combination)--and despite that being "the way it's always been done"--that can be a really good way to distinguish characters in a similar niche.

Compare to a game that's more abstract where all three just get "four dice" in Knife Fighter.

Is this *necessary*--heck no. Is it beneficial? For some people, yes--very.

I do agree with Ron's assessment of theme and Beast Master.

Finally: I think it's *very* possible to show up, play, have fun, and dislike the system. I'm running Savage Worlds right now. The game is deemed a huge success by the group. No one really likes the system much.

Sometimes even if the best fit isn't "all that good" it is still "a fit."

-Marco
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ethan_greer
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« Reply #4 on: September 08, 2003, 07:43:25 AM »

Ron, Yes.  My "prep" was lame, and made for a less than awe-inspiring adventure.  Point taken. However, Tony's "it's not finished" comments came before play started.

And really, the session wasn't quite as bad as you might suppose.  The adversity came into play in the form of the mystery of just what in the hell the mysterious stranger had planned for the characters.  The "severe danger" was that the guy offered them money to leave town; half the money now, half tomorrow morning after you spend the night in this inn.  As I expected, the party collectively went, "yikes!" and sprang into action.  So there was definitely a sense of urgency there. It was cool.

That said, it could have been a lot punchier.  A lot.

As for the beast: I see now that there were two occasions in the session that I should have used Beast Lore.

See, the beast was a forest-dwelling, unnatural monster with a fatal aversion to moonlight. I should have had Troy roll on Beast Lore to recognize that fact when the beast was first encountered.  Then, when the party met on the road, with the beast slathering balefully in the shade alongside the path, I should have had them all roll Beast Lore to recognize what would happen to the creature when it's body hit moonlight - it would ignite violently. Which happened, wounding Michael.

So, that would have gone a long way in making Beast Lore seem more relevant, and would have made the overall encounter with the monster more interesting. Basically, I need to remember that whenever the party encounters a beast, it's an opportunity, or even a requirement, that Beast Lore come into play. And I need to include text to that effect in the document. Excellent.  Thanks for pointing out the obvious!  :)

Mike, Ron: As to the players' expectations and preferences, Tony is a died-in-the-wool Gamist, borderline Hard Core.  Troy is a died-in-the-wool Pervy Sim/Exploration of Setting kinda player. Michael is difficult to classify, but I would have to call him Gamist overall, with strong Sim/Exploration of Character tendencies.

Indeed, I'm thinking a lot of their negativity in providing feedback was due to both play preferences and what they're used to. But when the rubber hit the road in actual play, they enjoyed the game. It's just weird - it's as if they have no capacity for recognizing or evaluating play that is outside their own prefferred modes. I'm taking their comments with grains of salt, and taking it as a good sign for the game that they all enjoyed the actual play.

Marco: Yeah, actually, you've pointed out Michael's primary complaint with the Physique thing.  He wanted to play a swash-buckling agile fencer-type, and was a little unhappy that his high Physique made him mechanically as able to lift a heavy rock as the seven foot bruiser type. To which I would respond, well, if you're not supposed to be strong then don't try to pick up the rock. He's a decent role-player, so that's not such a big issue for him, but he likes to have that systemic distinction.  But, I personally like the abstraction; it makes the game easier for me to run.
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Lxndr
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« Reply #5 on: September 08, 2003, 07:48:36 AM »

Couldn't the differentiation between a bruiser and a dextrous swashbuckler be handled through descriptors? (Sort of turning the Beast Lore as descriptor suggestion on its head)  Very strong vs. very agile.  Was that suggestion/solution insufficient for Michael?
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ethan_greer
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« Reply #6 on: September 08, 2003, 07:56:18 AM »

Hi Lxndr,
I suggested that, and he allowed as how the Descriptors helped.  Indeed, his Descriptor was, "Agile fighter." But he wanted more detail, probably because his prefferred games provide more detail.
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Lxndr
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« Reply #7 on: September 08, 2003, 08:06:59 AM »

This might be too detailed, but perhaps somehow allowing descriptors to modify attributes by more than one point might help?  If he had had a Physique 5 with a Descriptor that gave him +4, he might have been happier than Physique 8, with a Descriptor that gave him +1.  (To choose relatively random numbers that both add up to the nifty number nine).

I'm not sure how to integrate that into your current system, but it's a thought.
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Marco
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« Reply #8 on: September 08, 2003, 08:51:44 AM »

Quote from: ethan_greer

Marco: Yeah, actually, you've pointed out Michael's primary complaint with the Physique thing.  He wanted to play a swash-buckling agile fencer-type, and was a little unhappy that his high Physique made him mechanically as able to lift a heavy rock as the seven foot bruiser type. To which I would respond, well, if you're not supposed to be strong then don't try to pick up the rock. He's a decent role-player, so that's not such a big issue for him, but he likes to have that systemic distinction.  But, I personally like the abstraction; it makes the game easier for me to run.


Understood and acknowledged--higher level of abstraction ususally means less handling time for the GM. Often that is a very good thing.

But I was pretty surprised to see Ron of all people brush that preference as neophobia.

Philosophically how a character is rendered systemically *is* who that character is (to a degree anyway--there are some hardline takes on that stance that, IMO, go too far in the other direction). I mean, if the guy's unarmed punch does a lot of damage then he *is* a strong bruiser (well, okay, or a trained puncher--but still, the system here does seem to be rendering a strong character even if the player works to ignore it).

Something I wanted in GURPS was to distinguish my computer hacker/warez-lord/script-kiddie from a computer-science professor. The game didn't really do that at the time I was playing ... but my wish to do that was neither mired in old AD&D thought nor was it addressed *optimally* simply by role-playing.

-Marco
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Jeph
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« Reply #9 on: September 08, 2003, 01:12:30 PM »

Hi Ron,

I find it confusing that the one who suggested splitting Toughness off from Physique is saying that splitting off of Strength, too, is neophobia. The two ideas seem basically the same concept to me. Personally, I am of the opinion that Toughness and Strength should be combined into one (Brawn? Might? THEWS!!!!?), leaving Physique (Maybe call it Prowess again? Prowess's definition isn't completely combatcentric) to represent agility, quickness, and athleticism.
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Lxndr
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« Reply #10 on: September 08, 2003, 01:17:35 PM »

I like "Thews" as an attribute name.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #11 on: September 08, 2003, 06:37:09 PM »

Hello,

Splitting off Toughness and collapsing Strength + Dexterity into Prowess don't seem to me to be anything like one another for Thugs & Thieves.

I've been thinking a bit on how to explain this, because part of the answer has to do with this specific game (you're talking to the guy who endlessly explains why characters have one physical score in Sorcerer, and why it can be used for certain perception checks), and part of it has to do with a general and very historical issue.

The first part concerns Thugs & Thieves. Now: the characters are all roguish, possibly lowlifes, and certainly knockabout, physical types. Distinguishing among them is a matter of how they do these things, and the differences have to be direct and practical, not abstract.

Splitting Toughness apart from everything else, most notably the ability to harm another character (Prowess), provides such a nuance. I can perceive this, grasp this, and get into my leather groin-guard about this, for this game.

The second part concerns the concept of "dexterity." Let's back up waaaay up and think about this quality of a person. In the absence of a skills system, "dexterity" includes all sorts of what we'd call skills: acrobatics, for instance, or lock-picking. As soon as you add a skills system, or as in Thugs & Thieves, a score that covers "skill stuff," then the quality of "dexterity" disappears as a meaningful element of the character.

I fully expect this to be contested by y'all. The term and concept of "dexterity" occupies the same holy ground as "ambidextrous" and "intelligence" in gamer-think. But I'll stand by my conclusion, that dexterity in the absence of a skills context has never played any kind of meaningful role in an action-adventure story. Athletics has, yes. Proficiency with dexterous skills, yes. But Thugs & Thieves has these covered, making Dexterity per se irrelevant.

Best,
Ron
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Andrew Martin
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« Reply #12 on: September 08, 2003, 11:13:24 PM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
The term and concept of "dexterity" occupies the same holy ground as "ambidextrous" and "intelligence" in gamer-think. But I'll stand by my conclusion, that dexterity in the absence of a skills context has never played any kind of meaningful role in an action-adventure story. Athletics has, yes. Proficiency with dexterous skills, yes. But Thugs & Thieves has these covered, making Dexterity per se irrelevant.


I agree with Ron. In my action/adventure games using my S combat system, I have Speed attribute (which determines initiative and how fast a character can move) as the replacement for the "dexterity" attribute, plus liberal use of skills. Instead of ambidextrous, I've got really great multiple action rules plus skills for covering two weapon use (which is what ambidextrous is wanted for by players). And instead of Intelligence, I've got Sense, a attribute to determine how well the character notices hidden things and events, plus various sensing skills to fill out.
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Andrew Martin
Marco
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« Reply #13 on: September 09, 2003, 04:37:54 AM »

Ron, Andrew, I think I disagree:

Action/Adventure stories include tasks like walking a narrow beam (not a "tight rope"--which is kinda extreme and gets into an "acrobat" requirement) or crossing a rickety rope bridge (or carrying an open vial of acid without spilling, crawling between the optical beams of a sensor-net, whatever)--all of those are more basic dexterity than a given skill (yes, a skill could encompass them--but in Entrapment, Connery needs the more agile thief--*he* is the more skilled one).

I think the disconnect is that Physique doesn't help combat--and wanting your atheletic character to fight effectively because of his athletics isn't, IMO, groganard-only territory. Bigger people fight better in real life (boxing has weight classes)--so it can be a *reasonable* expectation for anyone who is not looking at the game at a theorist level.

That is: Yes, it's arguably below the level of abstraction of the game--and certainly off the focus of Sorceror--but in a game where the guy who puts the muscle on you as a 300 lb slab of ugly meat might be different than the exotic ex-assassin who knows 100 ways to cut you in a knife fight so you won't die right away and is almost impossible to hit with a weapon, I think there's room for distinguishing one's self from another with physique vs. training.

If nothing else, the comment made that to excel in some domain you have to max-out X-number of stats (where X varies from archetype to archetype) points this out. If I want to be the big hulking bruiser, I gotta buy up two stats (three with toughness). One (Physique) only lets me lift/carry a lot. My big ham-sized fists don't do any extra damage because of size alone.

So is it anything like a necessity? No--clearly not.
Is it a "good idea?" Unknown--a matter of opinion, certainly.
Is it out of line with the idea for the game? At this point, I don't think so--I think that a possible role for Physique in conjunction with Prowess might make sense--or Lxndr's idea for Descriptors at least.

But I think it's clear that there *is* an extant concept of physical ability outside of a skill (from the rule-set I'm looking at, it seems unclear to me what role "athletics" plays).

-Marco
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ethan_greer
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« Reply #14 on: September 09, 2003, 04:55:40 AM »

I've given it a lot of thought over the past couple days, and I've decided that the Abilities will stay as they are.  Since there's some confusion as to what exactly that means, here's a quote from the current document:

Quote

• Beast Lore: Knowledge and skill concerning animals, beasts, and monsters. Used for animal handling, animal empathy, animal training, animal knowledge, hunting, riding, etc.
• Charisma: Effectiveness in social situations. Used for etiquette, coercion, argument, interrogation, intimidation, seduction, lying, catching others in lies, bluffing, cons, etc.
• Cunning: Mental acuity and stability. Used for picking out details in one’s surroundings, discerning clues, tracking, willpower, knowledge, memory, learning, etc.
• Physique: Physical fitness and effectiveness in combat. Used for acrobatics, running, jumping, climbing, dancing, tightrope walking, combat, etc.
• Thievery: Ability to perform acts of stealth, guile, and/or questionable ethics. Used for picking pockets, picking locks, hiding, sneaking, sleight of hand, disguise, detecting/disabling/setting booby traps, etc.
• Toughness: Endurance and ability to withstand physical punishment. Used to avoid being wounded, resist poison or disease, endure physical punishment or hardship, etc.

Thanks to Lxndr, Jeph, Marco, and Ron for your conversation and comments about this.  They helped.

Edit: Oh, and Andrew too.
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